POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 14, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 02:11 a.m. HST, Jan 14, 2011
After some two decades battling environmental and cultural advocates, the Army has agreed to remove heavy firepower exercises from Makua Valley. The decision is not the full surrender that some had wanted and the Army needs to provide an analysis of the environmental effects created by the decision to alter its training grounds — but the move is a step in the right direction.
The decision comes five years after a federal judge ruled that the Army had failed to show that 25th Infantry Division soldiers would be "inadequately trained" if denied use of live ammunition in field exercises in the leeward valley, an Army training area since the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Four years have passed since the Army reported to Congress that the training in Makua was "absolutely necessary," although no live-fire training has been permitted there since 2004.
Just over the Waianae ridge from Schofield Barracks, the 25th Infantry's headquarters, the valley is regarded by some as a sacred place and is home to a multitude of endangered species.
Little more than two months ago, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway found that the Army had failed to adequately show how the live-fire training would affect cultural sites in the valley and Makua Beach limu, a seaweed consumed by families that fish in the area.
A trial on unresolved issues had been scheduled to begin next month.
The Malama Makua community group, which challenged the Army in court in 1998, and David Henkin, its Earthjustice attorney, welcomed the Army's new stance. Waianae physician Fred Dodge, a Malama Makua board member, is understandably cautious about what the Army intends to do with the valley, remarking that he "would like to know more" about the Army's plans.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon, former commander of the 25th Infantry and now head of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, says the artillery and other heavy weapons training will move from the 4,190-acre Makua Valley to the 133,000-acre Big Island Pohakuloa Training Area, Schofield and mainland sites.
The Army is now eyeing Makua for a roadside-bomb and counterinsurgency training center, with conditions replicating those in Afghanistan. The potential effects of that new plan should be cautiously vetted.
The Army already faces opposition at Pohakuloa over depleted uranium contamination, but asserts that the radiological doses are "well within limits" considered safe.
Pohakuloa now is being used as an Army training area for 19-ton Stryker tracked vehicles.
The live-fire training move to Pohakuloa will provide ammunition for the opposition Malu Aina Center for Nonviolent Education & Action, headed by longtime peace activist Jim Albertini.
Mixon says the plan for Pohakuloa will be described in a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement now being prepared.
The decision to move live-fire training from Oahu to the Big Island will not quickly dissolve reasonable resistance and scrutiny — nor should it.