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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, May 16, 2002

Hilo protesters picket Army briefing

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — People opposed to the military presence on the island picketed outside the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel last night while about 70 business leaders were meeting with military officials in a banquet room.

Later, 11 of the protesters were invited inside to hear the presentation.

At issue was the Army's plans to expand the Pohakuloa Training Area and spend $236 million on improvements for military training on the Big Island.

Pohakuloa, off the Saddle Road between Hilo and Kona, is Hawai'i's largest training facility, with 108,000 acres. The military wants to add 23,000 acres in an acquisition from Parker Ranch.

The proposed expansion is part of the $693 million plan to turn the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) into a fast-strike unit. Plans call for more trails to be built on the Big Island, and as many as 23,000 acres might be purchased at the Pohakuloa Training Area for maneuvers and large-scale exercises.

Other expansions are planned on O'ahu. The interim brigade plan represents the biggest Army construction project in Hawai'i since World War II.

Business leaders identified on the hotel's sign board as "Big Island Key Leaders" met with Army officials to hear their plans.

Outside the hotel there were 30 protesters on Banyan Drive, according to police surveillance officers, although organizer Jim Albertini said he had mustered more than 50.

They held signs saying "Aloha Not Bombs" and "Honk for No More Bombs."

Albertini was joined by anti-war advocates including former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Moanikeala Akaka, who held a large sign reading "Nough Already."

Capt. Stacy Bathrick, an Army spokeswoman, said at least three such discussion groups have come together on O'ahu — where even more investment is planned — without any protest.

She said the military is happy "to engage the whole community" in the discussion.

Albertini, who has served time in federal prison for his role in protests on the Big Island and O'ahu, described last night's dinner gathering as "democracy by invitation only."

However, about 11 of the protesters were invited in to hear the presentation, and joined the military and business leaders in the hotel.