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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, June 28, 2004

Debate persists at Makua Valley

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Houston Ala is from Wai'anae, born and raised.

But until yesterday he had never stepped foot onto Makua Military Reservation, the swath of sculpted green mountains and rolling hills on the Leeward Coast that the Army uses for live-fire exercises.

Visitors to Makua Valley, including members of Malama Makua and Hui Malama 'O Makua, join hands in prayer before entering the military reservation on a "cultural-access" excursion. The groups oppose the Army's use of the valley for live-fire training.

Leandra Wai points to petroglyphs on a boulder in Makua Valley, which has been a military training site since World War II.

William Aila, with Stryker brigade environmental-impact documents in hand during a roadside news conference, says the military "cannot avoid damaging cultural sites," while training in Makua Valley.

Photos by Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"We don't want our guys going over there (to Iraq and Afghanistan) to get ambushed, but I lived here all my life and I never got to come here," said Ala. "It is a beautiful place and I'm glad the Army gives us access."

Ala was a part of a cultural-access excursion led by valley preservation groups Malama Makua and Hui Malama 'O Makua. Both groups oppose the Army's use of the valley for live-fire training. Yesterday's outing was one of more than 70 cultural excursions made as a provision of the Makua Programmatic Agreement with the Army.

The agreement was part of a legal settlement reached between the military and Malama Makua in October 2001. The civilian group was given limited access to the valley and the Army was allowed to conduct limited training.

William Aila, a member of Hui Malama 'O Makua, and Fred Dodge took issue yesterday with the Army's study that addresses the environmental impact a Stryker brigade would have on the Islands. Aila said that since the Army is willing to invest large sums of money to redesign training areas at Schofield Barracks, Kahuku, and Pohakuloa for a Stryker brigade, why can't they eliminate all live-fire exercises in Makua Valley?

"They cannot avoid damaging cultural sites," he said, on the eve of a three-day exercise at the reservation by the Army's 536th Maintenance Company, which will deploy to Afghanistan in August.

He said the continued use of the valley could lead to the destruction of Hawaiian cultural sites.

Army Capt. Kathy Turner said that if a Stryker brigade were approved for Hawai'i, the majority of its training would be done elsewhere and that no live fire from the brigade would take place at Makua.

Even so, the Army has about 7,000 soldiers preparing to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq during the next year, and firing live ammunition at Makua is a vital part of their training, she said.

Turner also cited the development of a second environmental-impact study that deals specifically with the impact the Army's exercises are having in Makua Valley. That study is due out in September.

Aila and his group said the Stryker study does not address concerns about the environmental and cultural state of Makua Valley.

"There are two separate documents," Turner said. "Any training that can affect Makua will be addressed in the Makua EIS. The EIS is not something you can do quickly."

Since the submission of the Stryker study, the Army is in a 30-day waiting period slated to end July 6, at which time Lt. Gen. James L. Campbell, commander of U.S. Army, Pacific, will decide whether to bring the brigade to the Islands.

The Army spends more than $2 million annually on the preservation of Makua Valley. Military commanders have used it since World War II, bombing, shelling and launching simulated ground attacks through its rolling terrain. Yesterday the reservation was a vibrant green despite the scorching sun. The valley was quiet and calm.

To some, including University of Hawai'i junior Derek Faavi, the Army has more than enough land.

"You just feel bad for the Hawaiians, losing all their land," he said.

But others, like Ala, recognize the need for the Army and local residents to coexist.

"The Army likes to practice out here and they have to do it for the guys in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "It's a give-and-take situation."

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.