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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 18, 2001

Makua concerns ignored

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

For a while, it was looking like the Army was actually listening to community concerns about training exercises in Makua Valley.

There were community meetings, field trips, more meetings, promises and concessions. There was a lot of head-nodding and "yes, yes, we understand."

And though the announcement that the Army plans to resume live-fire exercises without conducting a full environmental impact statement at Makua came as no surprise, it still feels like a slap to the people who thought that just maybe their concerns were being heard.

The Army is saying several things here, the most emotionally laden of which is that training in Makua is a matter of life and death for the troops. It's hard to argue against a statement like that. Nearly impossible. Nobody wants a single American soldier to die.

But to tie the lives of soldiers to the use of Makua just isn't a straight line of reasoning. There are alternatives. To tie the life of Makua to the actions of those soldiers, however, is clear.

The truth is, this is mostly about money.

The Army has cited a list of reasons, largely financial, why Makua is the only place suitable for this type of training. Other areas in Kahuku, Schofield and Pohakuloa can't be used for the combined-arms live-fire training, the Army says, because all would be too expensive to set up.

This kind of talk is especially offensive to those who are fighting for the life of Makua Valley. That beautiful cradle of land is being shot up because it's the cheapest? What a horrible thought.

This is also about convenience. Setting up a training area elsewhere would take time and would likely run afoul of the same kinds of community opposition that have emerged in Makua. Completing an EIS would take time. Defending a lawsuit takes time, too, but the Army is gambling that they can be firing off rounds in the valley and in the courtroom at the same time.

It cannot be concluded there is no significant environmental impact to Makua as a result of the training without the information in an environmental impact statement. There are still too many questions unanswered, starting with the effects on groundwater. The Army won't spend money on an EIS, won't spend money on a new training area, but is willing to spend money defending its actions in court. It seems paying legal fees is the best deal of the three choices.

The Army is doing a commendable job taking care of endangered plants in the valley. They could do a much better job taking care of the people tied to the land. The concerns raised were many and varied and pointed. Was anybody listening?

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Her e-mail address is lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com