Friday, March 30, 2001

Lt. Col. Mike Coss, top left, and Col. Rodney
Anderson walked past a target yesterday in
the trenches in Makua Valley.

Army weighs
community concerns
over use of Makua

An environmental assessment
examines strict limits on live-fire
training in the valley

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Army estimates that it will be at least another six weeks before a decision is made whether to resume limited training in Makua Valley with fewer soldiers.

Brig. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, assistant 25th Infantry Division (Light) commander, said the Army is working to address 14 concerns raised by Leeward Oahu residents over a supplemental environmental assessment released in December.

That is part of the process the Army agreed to abide by in 1999 following an out-of-court settlement with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund representing Malama Makua, Eikenberry said.

Back then the Army decided to develop an environmental assessment as required under the National Environmental Policy Act Standard.

Alvin Char, the Army's chief environmental
engineer, pointed toward the proposed smaller
training area on the south side of Makua Valley.

"Right now, we're following the law and doing what is required," said Eikenberry during a one-hour news briefing.

It will be up to Maj. Gen. James Dubik, 25th Division commander, to determine whether the supplemental environmental assessment is adequate or whether a more detailed and expensive environmental impact statement needs to be pursued. Eikenberry said the decision to do an EIS can only be made by the secretary of the Army.

So far, the Army has spent $250,000 in drafting the supplemental environmental assessment.

Eikenberry said an EIS could take up to three years and cost as much as $3 million.

Eikenberry reiterated that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already said the limited training regimen proposed under the supplemental assessment would not jeopardize endangered species in the valley.

Above, an aerial view of Makua Valley, looking down
from the top or eastern end of the valley.

Also, both the state Historic Preservation Office and the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation said the Army's modified training program will have "no adverse effect" on the cultural and historic sites in Makua.

Eikenberry said the Army is willing to conduct an EIS, but only if the data warrant it.

The general said the Army proposes to use only one-tenth of the 4,190 acres that make up the valley.

Under its modified training plan, the number of soldiers has been reduced to 150 from 600, and ammunition most likely to cause fires will not be used. This means the elimination of tracer bullets, illumination rounds, helicopter-fired rockets and missiles.

Lt. Col. Mike Coss looks yesterday at a map
showing the proposed smaller area for
combined-arms live-fire training in the valley.

Eikenberry said the modified training program is "a considerable reduction of what the Army has been doing there in the past."

The Army says the other areas where soldiers can shoot and train together -- Schofield Barracks and the Big island's Pohakuloa Training Area -- are too small.

Eikenberry estimated that it would cost more than $76 million and four years to build a duplicate of the Makua facility elsewhere on Oahu.

Still pending is another lawsuit by Earthjustice that wants the court to order an EIS.

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