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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

State may get $358M for military projects

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Hawai'i would receive at least $358 million for military projects next year under the defense authorization bills that passed the House and Senate yesterday.

The state would get at least $311 million for military facilities and construction and $46 million for research and development, including money to buy land and enhance Schofield Barracks and Hickam Air Force Base for a planned Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Another $17 million would go for the Saddle Road realignment project on the Big Island.

While Hawai'i lawmakers welcomed the money as important to the state's economy, they were disappointed with House language that would give the Defense Department more flexibility to get around the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act for training exercises.

The Senate version, with the help of Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, allows the military to develop its own management plan as long as threatened or endangered species are adequately protected.

President Bush asked Congress to exempt the military from several environmental laws to preserve training and readiness. The Pentagon has told Congress that federal critical habitat plans to save animals and plants — including some in Hawai'i — complicate military training.

But environmentalists, and several Democrats, accused the military of exaggerating these claims to avoid the law. The military can now obtain exemptions to environmental law during wartime or for national security reasons.

Akaka and Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, voted for the Senate version. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, voted for the House version, although he said "anti-environmental Republicans have hijacked this legislation to weaken" environmental law.

Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, said he could not vote for the bill despite his support for the military and the projects in Hawai'i.

"The fact is that the Defense Department in Washington, D.C., simply got greedy," he said. "Citing heightened national defense needs, with which we all agree, it seized the opportunity to avoid compliance with some of the most foresighted laws of the last decades."

House and Senate negotiators will meet to settle differences between the two versions before voting on a final bill and sending it to President Bush. The legislation only authorizes the money; lawmakers still have to approve spending it later this year.

A Stryker brigade, with 300 Stryker vehicles and 3,600 soldiers, could eventually bring $693 million in construction to the Islands. The brigade, part of the Army's transformation to a faster, more agile force, would form out of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) based at Schofield Barracks. Hickam Air Force Base would be expanded for additional C-17 aircraft that could transport the Stryker vehicles.

The Pentagon, however, has not made a final decision to pay for a Hawai'i brigade.