By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
Bowing to public concern about Makua Valley, the U.S. Army yesterday withdrew its assertion that live-fire training will not significantly impact the valley and now will reconsider a supplemental environmental assessment.
The Army also announced plans to create an advisory council with civilian and military members to discuss concerns raised about training in the valley.
Commanders at the 25th Infantry Division (Light) and U.S. Army Hawaii previously had announced intentions to resume training in the Leeward Coast valley sometime next month.
The environmental assessment, which was released in December, drew criticism from the community as well as a lawsuit in federal court. Nearly 500 people gathered Jan. 27 to discuss the initial assessment at a meeting that lasted more than 10 1/2 hours.
The Armys latest move did little to appease frustration among community members who have opposed training at Makua. Many still want the Army to conduct an environmental impact statement, which would be more comprehensive and also take more time than the supplemental environmental assessment.
"The community has already spoken," said Waianae resident William Aila Jr., whose family has ties to the valley. "To think the Army is going to get the community to change its mind simply by having a series of meetings is a complete waste of everyones time."
The Army has not trained in Makua for more than two years. Military sources have said the readiness of soldiers at Schofield Barracks has deteriorated in the interim.
General is listening
The decision yesterday was made by division commander Maj. Gen. James Dubik.
The 12 to 15 public concerns Dubik wants to discuss further include transporting ammunition to the valley along Farrington Highway, possible contamination of the water table, and increasing access to the valley for religious purposes.
"He feels that in light of the fact that so many people showed up and had a lot to say to the Army, that he wants to show he is listening," said Maj. Cynthia Teramae, Army spokeswoman .
Any additional findings produced during the new review would trigger another 30-day public review and comment period, identical to one held in December.
Otherwise, no timetable for discussion and decision-making has been set.
Teramae said the advisory council would be similar to the Waianae Military Civilian Advisory Council, which has worked on community problems for 20 years.
Cynthia Rezentes, chairwoman of the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board, said she was encouraged by the Armys decisions. She too, wants an environmental impact statement.
She said the creation of an advisory council is a positive step, despite the fact that there have been many public meetings.
"Everybody is tired of it, but there is a core of people who will definitely go to meetings," she said. "There is a critical concern here, when you read the environmental assessment, that personal health and safety cannot be guaranteed."
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which sued the Army in federal court on behalf of the citizens group Malama Makua, said yesterdays decision will not affect the court action. The case, which seeks the environmental impact statement, is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 26.
"Just because they have withdrawn their decision doesnt mean we cant continue to challenge it," said John Fritschie, an Earthjustice attorney.
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