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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 4, 2004

Group outlines Stryker concerns

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Army is speeding ahead with its plans to install a Stryker Brigade in Hawai'i, giving only lip service to the impact that the vehicles and required training scenarios are likely to have on the state's environment, the Sierra Club charged yesterday in a 32-page letter.

"We are concerned that the Army, the Pentagon and our elected leaders are viewing the environmental review process for this project as a mere formality instead of using it as the decision-making tool it is meant to be," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the club's Hawai'i chapter.

The Sierra Club also accused the Army of expanding its plans for the Stryker Brigade without properly studying the effect those changes were likely to have on the environment. It contends that although the Army has made progress in its stewardship of land it uses in the state, problems with inadequate cleanup at old sites and issues such as the recent fire in Makua Valley do not bode well for the impact of the new Stryker Brigade.

The Army said it would carefully review the Sierra Club's comments.

The Sierra Club letter was submitted to the Army as a response to the government's three-volume, 1,500-page draft environmental impact statement, which was released Sept. 30. Yesterday was the last day for the public to submit responses.

"The Army is pleased the Sierra Club provided comments on the draft environmental impact statement," said Troy Griffin, spokesman for the 25th Infantry Division (Light). "These comments will be reviewed, considered and addressed with the same deliberate process as the other comments on the document received during the public comment period."

Griffin would not comment on the specific allegations by the Sierra Club, saying the issues were better addressed through the environmental impact review process.

The Stryker is a 19-ton armored vehicle that is light enough to airlift, has eight wheels instead of treads and is said to be extremely maneuverable. Stryker Brigade combat teams include 3,600 soldiers designed to be deployed anywhere in the world within 96 hours.

Stryker Brigades are the Army's answer to critics who, at the end of the 20th century, contended the service was incapable of deploying fighting units quickly enough to respond to scenarios likely to arise in the 21st century. The first Stryker brigade, out of Fort Lewis, Wash., is being tested in Iraq.

It was reported last month that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has approved a Stryker Brigade for Hawai'i.

The Stryker Brigade is expected to be operational in 2007, equipped with new lightweight 155 mm howitzers and new Comanche helicopters scheduled to be in service in 2009. The Stryker would be the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) and be based at Schofield Barracks.

State elected officials, including Sen. Dan Inouye and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, have lauded the Stryker Brigade as a means of ensuring a continued military presence in Hawai'i and an economic impetus for the state. The Sierra letter also points out that government money has been set aside for the improvements that would support the Stryker, including upgrades to Hickam Air Force Base, which would transport deployed vehicles by C-17 aircraft.

These statements and actions seem to indicate that the military plans to go forward with the Stryker Brigade, regardless of the findings in the environmental studies, Mikulina said.

The Sierra Club also said that training with Comanche helicopters and 155 mm howitzers was not considered in studies leading to the military's original environmental impact statement and should have been. A new or amended draft environmental impact statement should be prepared and submitted for public comment, the letter said.

The Army will review the public comments it has received before deciding whether to issue a final environmental impact statement.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.