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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, October 28, 2006

Court halts all Stryker activities

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Army says it will comply with a federal appeals court order issued yesterday to stop all "activities associated" with establishing a $1.5 billion Stryker brigade in the Islands.

A temporary injunction barring further Stryker work came nearly a month after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Army violated environmental laws when it failed to consider other sites to base the 19-ton armored vehicles.

In the 2-1 decision on Oct. 5, the San Francisco-based court said the Army must complete a supplementary environmental analysis to consider alternatives to setting up a brigade here.

Earlier this month, the Army had argued the ruling did not mean all Stryker operations and training would have to stop.

"We're pleased the court recognized the Army's plans to plow ahead with Stryker conversion in Hawai'i before it even looked at other places ... violated both the law and common sense," David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice, said yesterday.

Henkin is representing three Hawaiian groups in the suit: Ili'ulaokalani Coalition, Na 'Imi Pono and Kipuka. They asked for the temporary injunction last week.

In its decision to issue the order, the 9th Circuit said yesterday: "We should not permit defendants to render meaningless our holding that they should have considered alternatives to transformation in Hawai'i by allowing them to continue with their implementation plan."

The Army issued a brief news release last night, saying, "We are in receipt of the court order and we are complying."

At one point, Lt. Gen. John M. Brown III, the commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter, said halting Stryker training would disadvantage more than 3,900 soldiers in the brigade, who are preparing for a one-year deployment to Iraq.

"Not providing full training for these soldiers before sending them into combat would be irresponsible and criminal," Brown said in a Hawai'i Army Weekly opinion piece.

It is unclear when the Army will be able to resume Stryker operations.

Jennifer Sabas, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a key Congressional supporter of the Stryker brigade in Hawai'i, said the first step is making sure the Army is in compliance with the order. "The Army needs to comply as thoroughly as it can," she said.

"We would be hopeful that the Army's compliance would mean it would be able to resume training operations. We're a nation at war. We have troops that need to be trained."

Henkin contends the order will remain in effect until a federal court judge in Hawai'i reviews the case and places restrictions on Stryker activities.

Over the past five years, the Army has spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars to set up the Stryker brigade in Hawai'i, one of the biggest projects since World War II and often billed as heralding a wholesale transformation in the way soldiers train and fight.

Plans to set up a Stryker brigade at Schofield Barracks include a host of infrastructure and construction projects, totaling about $700 million in current and future work on O'ahu and the Big Island for trails, firing ranges and support facilities.

The three Hawaiian groups filed suit against the Army in 2004, saying the Stryker brigade would prove detrimental to Hawaiian cultural sites and habitats for endangered species.

In April 2005, Hawai'i Chief U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled against the three groups in the case. Ezra said the organizations had raised their objections too late.

He also said the Army had adequately studied the effects of the project.

The Stryker brigade is part of the Army's 30-year plan to set up more responsive and deployable units. Eventually, the Army wants to station about 328 Strykers on O'ahu.

In July, about 60 Strykers arrived in Hawai'i, with up to 50 more arriving each month since, officials said.

Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.