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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Makua injunction tilts away from Army

At first glance, the injunction granted by a federal judge in the Makua Valley case may appear little more than another procedural skirmish in the dispute over live-fire training by the Army there. But take another look.

In a lawsuit brought in December by the community group Malama Makua, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ordered the U.S. Army not to resume live-fire training at its range in the valley at least until an Oct. 29 hearing. Considering that the Army has voluntarily suspended training since 1998, why would another three months or so be a big deal?

That, at least, was one of Judge Mollway's arguments, which must have been frustrating for the Army leaders, who say readiness has deteriorated seriously.

Judge Mollway's remarks should give the Army — and state officials, as well — reason to begin reassessing their options.

She enjoined the Army from resuming its training unless it either wins the lawsuit or completes an impact statement demonstrating a benign impact.

The Army must have blinked when Mollway said that even the Army's environmental assessment "reveals the potential for adverse environmental effects."

In fact, she said, it's a given that the environment will be affected. The only uncertainty is over "the intensity and nature of those effects."

There's a bigger puzzle to be pieced together on the issue of live-fire training at Makua. A few of the pieces:

• Live-fire training was halted on the Navy's target island of Kaho'olawe in 1990.

• Training is to halt on the Puerto Rican training island of Vieques in 2003.

• The Japanese government is urging a reduction in the American military footprint on Okinawa , and the Pentagon reportedly will begin consolidating its bases in South Korea, although a reduction in troop strength there is not anticipated.

• The Army proposes to transform itself into "interim rapid strike brigades," one of the first of which would be located here. The implications for Schofield Barracks and Makua Valley of this brigade transformation have yet to be revealed.

The plaintiffs in the Makua suit clearly hope to force the Army out, just like Kaho'olawe and Vieques.

So the burning issue is whether the Army can maintain a viable presence in Hawai'i without Makua — either permanently or, at a minimum, for some time to come. The Army consistently says it has no suitable alternatives to Makua.

Is Hawai'i ready for an O'ahu without the Army?