WAIANAE - The Army yesterday gave tours to show what its proposed live-fire training in Makua Valley would entail, including limited maneuvers, but opponents remained unconvinced that safety measures are enough to protect the environment as well as cultural and historic sites.
More than 150 people spent the morning touring the Makua Military Reservation, looking into trenches, handling assault rifles and stopping at several informational stations detailing the use of firearms, helicopters and environmental controls.
WHAT: The Army will hold a public meeting to hear comments about the resumption of live-ammunition exercises in Makua Valley and the supplemental environmental assessment of the potential effects of routine training.
WHEN, WHERE: 3 p.m. Saturday at the Waianae District Park Multi-Purpose Center, 85-601 Farrington Highway.
WHY: The deadline for public comment on the document is Jan. 30.
"We want people to come away with a sense of the control measures in place to ensure the care of the cultural sites and environment in Makua in addition to ensuring the safety of our soldiers who may train here," said Brig. Gen. William B. Caldwell, assistant division commander for operations, 25th Infantry Division (Light) and U.S. Army Hawaii.
Sparky Rodrigues, spokesman for Malama Makua, a group that has sued in federal court to prevent further training, said the safety measures are not enough. Rodrigues, who found a bullet hole near a petroglyph, said that although the Army has set aside limited areas for training, they are no guarantee against further damage to endangered species and Hawaiian sites.
"Bullets and rockets tend to ricochet beyond their set course and can impact areas downrange," Rodrigues said. "They have not done subsurface surveys in some areas and cannot say live fire will not impact the endangered species on the hillsides."
Makua Military Reservation has been under Army jurisdiction for use as a training area since May 1943.
In September 1998, munitions sparked several wildfires and the Army suspended live-ammunition exercises.
The Army has since prepared a supplemental environmental assessment to expand its 1985 assessment. It shows there will be no significant impact from controlled training in the area, according to the Army.
Because Makua is the only live-fire maneuver training area on Oahu sufficient for company-size units, the Army considers training there critical to military readiness. The Army hopes to resume training in Makua soon, possibly as early as March.
Rodrigues said he is also concerned about the possibility of chemicals being released into the soil and atmosphere during live-fire training and its long-term effect on area residents. He and other members of his group want a full environmental impact statement completed to address community concerns before any training resumes.
Dr. Laurie Lucking, cultural resources manager for the Armys Department of Public Works, said the valley is well protected.
"Every time we find an archaeological site at Makua, we protect it." Lucking said. "We develop buffer zones and consult with the state Historic Preservation Office and local Hawaiian groups."
Lucking said there are more than 33 species of endangered plants and animals in Makua Valley and there are 44 known archaeological sites, including the Ukanipo Heiau, a religiously significant site placed on the National Historic Register in 1983.
Lucking said more subsurface surveys will be done and buffer zones will be placed around the sacred sites to prevent soldiers from getting too close. The Army will prepare detailed maps to be used by all soldiers who train at Makua to ensure that all firing will be pointed away from archaeological sites.
The Army has invested more than $10 million to help preserve the features in Makua Valley. Preservation efforts include building a fence along the spine of “hikilolo and Kahanahaiki valleys to keep out feral goats and pigs that feed on endangered plants.
The Army training would send soldiers through a barbed-wire fence to attack an entrenched "enemy" while mortars fly overhead and helicopters provide support. The training would take place night and day.
During a briefing before yesterdays tours, Waianae resident Frenchy DeSoto asked what good it would do to simply protect Hawaiian sites if there were no access to them.
Lucking said access is a dilemma, but the Army did schedule tours of historic areas twice last year.
Dr. James Anthony said Makua is a sacred place and the Army was allowed in as a guest 50 years ago.
"You have outstayed your welcome," Anthony said.