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Marines curtail flights after complaints

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The Marine Corps has agreed to cut back its use of Upolu Airport on Hawaii island after residents complained about hundreds of tilt-rotor Osprey and helicopter operations there.

The Marines made the decision after Earthjustice attorney David Henkin wrote to the Corps saying a previous environmental impact statement for the basing of MV-22 Ospreys and H-1 helicopters in Hawaii specified that flight operations at Upolu would be limited to 25 per year.

Henkin noted the Corps also said the use of the airport “would be infrequent.”

The clash comes as Marine Corps Base Hawaii increases its Osprey contingent and in recent years added to its helicopter mix. At the same time, the Marines and Army in particular continue to be challenged in meeting training requirements in Hawaii.

According to Earthjustice, an environmental law organization, community members in Hawi logged more than 800 Osprey and helicopter operations at Upolu Airport in the first three months of 2017 alone.

“Such noisy, dangerous operations are completely inappropriate for our quiet, rural community, with limited resources to respond to potential accidents,” community organizer Alyssa Slaven was quoted by Earthjustice as saying.

Steven Forjohn, an attorney for the commander of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said in a letter to Henkin dated Friday that “following careful review of the situation, Hawaii-based USMC aircraft will return to the projected estimated number of 25 routine administrative operations per year” at Upolu.

Given the number of Osprey operations that have already occurred at Upolu this calendar year, the Marines will limit use of the airport for the remainder of the year to only emergency landings and required weather diversions, Forjohn said.

Forjohn also said that the Marine Corps “is re-evaluating its training requirements in Hawaii” and that one possible result may be a supplemental environmental impact statement that might propose changed or increased flight operations at Upolu.

Henkin lauded the Marine Corps’ decision. “It is, unfortunately, rare for a government agency to acknowledge that it needs to correct its mistakes and make the necessary changes voluntarily,” Henkin said in a release. “We applaud the Marines for doing the right thing.”

Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268 now has 12 Ospreys at Kaneohe Bay. A second squadron and another 12 are due in Hawaii in the 2018 fiscal year.

Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, meanwhile, was moved out to Kaneohe Bay starting in 2012 with AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters and UH-1Y Huey utility helicopters.

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