Wednesday, May 16, 2001

The Army says it would take up to three years to
conduct an environmental impact statement for
Makua Valley, above, where it wants to resume
live--fire training exercises.

Makua Valley
fight might not
be over yet

Earthjustice group could
continue to battle Army over site

By Gregg K. Kakesako


As expected, the 25th Infantry Division wants to resume modified, live-fire training in Makua Valley in July after a 2-1/2 year delay.

However, an environmental group said the Army has not done enough to protect the Leeward Oahu valley and that group may go to court again to stop the training.

The Army said yesterday that a supplemental environmental assessment found resuming live-fire training would have no significant impact on the environment.

While again rejecting demands for a more detailed and expensive environmental impact statement, Brig. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, assistant division commander, said the unit's readiness has been affected since it voluntarily suspended training in 1998.

"Since then, we have only been able to properly train our infantry companies 25 percent of the time," he said.

To undertake an environmental impact statement would mean the 25th Division would have to suspend training for up to three years, spending up to $4 million until the process was completed, Eikenberry said.

He described the $500,000 modified environmental assessment as "comprehensive, scientifically objective and inclusive."

In an interview, Eikenberry said soldiers could be at greater risk in combat without realistic training, particularly with live ordnance.

The Army is not the only force faced with urban squeeze and citizens' demands for safety, less noise, good air quality and preservation of endangered and other species. The Navy is facing lawsuits over sea turtles in Vieques in Puerto Rico where live-fire bombing recently resumed after a two-year stop following the death of a civilian.

The Marines at Camp Pendleton in Southern California can not use part of its base because of environmental restrictions. Although its base sits beside 17 miles of Pacific Ocean beach, perfect for amphibious landing training, all but 2-1/2 miles is part of a state park. Marines can use that stretch only half the year. From March to September, it is off limits because numerous bird species breed there.

Eikenberry said the Army wants to resume training in Makua this summer under the terms of a supplemental environment assessment it completed in December and modified after extensive public hearings earlier this year.

The Army proposes to limit training to only 457 of the more than 4,190 acres in Makua Valley. It will only send a company of 150 soldiers at a time into Makua and will not allow them to use rockets or other incendiary devices.

But David Henkin, attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, rejected the Army's latest amended environmental assessment, saying that it appears to have failed to meet the requirements of the law.

"I am astonished that the Army believes it got away with it," said Henkin.

Earthjustice, representing Malama Makua, has been fighting with the Army since 1998 trying to get them to do an environmental impact statement.

Henkin said he wants the Army to continue to suspend training until the federal courts rule on Earthjustice's lawsuit requesting that an environmental impact statement be done.

"If not, then we will ask the judge for a preliminary injunction," Henkin said.

After several public hearings earlier this year and continual dialogue with groups in the Leeward Oahu community, Eikenberry said the Army modified its training proposal by:

>> Agreeing to conduct more soil and water sampling in the area even though it does not believe that its training has damaged the environment. The Army will seek $500,000 from Congress to sink four more test wells.

>> Conveying soldiers and ammunition through Waianae communities in off-peak hours.

>> Granting more public access to historical and cultural sites in the valley.

>> Implementing a wildlife fire protection plan.

The Army was facing a May 29 deadline imposed by federal Judge Susan Mollway to decide whether it would prepare an environmental impact statement or face a hearing on whether its environmental assessment was adequate.

"This was not an easy decision and we realize Makua is a passionate issue for many people," Eikenberry said. "But readiness and soldiers' lives are a passionate issue for us too. Our soldiers will ultimately be the ones who must answer our nation's call."

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