Stryker foes say Hawaii to small to train unit
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
By Kevin Dayton
HILO, Hawai'i — Representatives of the U.S. Army listened to a stream of criticism last night of the Army's proposal to permanently base a Stryker brigade combat team in Hawai'i.
Critics of the $1.5 billion Stryker project cited concerns about soil and water contamination, and especially the potential for contamination from depleted uranium in the wake of the military disclosure this year that depleted uranium was discovered at the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area.
Lindafaye Kroll of Protect Hawai'i and Kahu O Kahiko said the military has caused too much "toxic pollution" in Hawai'i, including the depleted uranium found at the training area and at Schofield Barracks on O'ahu.
Despite that record "you want to increase that contamination by locating the Stryker brigade here? I say no," Kroll told military officials at Auntie Sally Kaleohano's Luau Hale in Hilo.
Hilo resident Lynn Nakkim argued the military should be closing the training area instead of expanding it to accommodate a brigade equipped with the eight-wheeled armored Stryker vehicles.
"When I say 'Not in my front yard,' it's because my front yard is so small," Nakkim said, referring to the limited amount of land available in an island state.
A number of speakers criticized U.S. foreign policy, and some said the Army is not welcome in Hawai'i.
The hearing drew almost 100 people, nearly all opposed to the Stryker project.
The hearing is the first of nine that will be held across Hawai'i and in Alaska and Colorado on a revised environmental impact statement on the Stryker project.
The Army prepared the latest draft after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in October that the Army had not complied with federal environmental law because it failed in its 2004 EIS to adequately analyze alternative locations outside Hawai'i.
The revised 595-page study, released in July, weighs the possibilities of returning the Stryker unit to Hawai'i after an upcoming deployment to Iraq, or permanently basing it at Fort Richardson in Alaska or Fort Carson in Colorado.
The environmental draft does not specify a preferred location. However, the Army says if it has to move the Stryker brigade out of Hawai'i in late 2008 or early 2009, a smaller airborne brigade or another infantry brigade would replace it in Hawai'i.
The Stryker brigade has about 4,000 soldiers, 328 Strykers and about 600 other vehicles.
The Stryker and the 28 construction projects that accompany the brigade in Hawai'i have faced a series of legal challenges.
The three Hawaiian groups called the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, Na 'Imi Pono and Kipuka filed a lawsuit in 2004 charging that the Stryker project would damage Native Hawaiian cultural sites and harm endangered species and their habitats.
The new draft of the environmental report confirms there would be "significant" impacts on cultural resources, soil erosion, wildfire management and noise.
Hank Fergerstrom, a priest with the Temple of Lono, said: "We have to have an understanding that we're living on an island. We don't have space to waste, we don't have space to blow up. We don't have extra space that we're not going to be using in case you screw it all up with your munitions like you have on Kaho'olawe."
He also said the Pohakuloa Training Area has religious significance.
In the first two hours of testimony, the only speaker in favor of the Stryker brigade was Navy veteran Larry Kurozawa, a Hilo resident.
Kurozawa said the military has to train to be prepared for war, and said Hawai'i is the right place for the Stryker brigade because it is close to "hot spots" where military intervention may be necessary.
Kurozawa also pointed out the Stryker is an improvement over the light vehicles that have been used in Iraq that are vulnerable to roadside bombs, and said soldiers need them.
"Don't they deserve that?" Kurozawa asked the crowd. "They don't? Maybe you should go in the military and get your head shot off.
"Give our military a break; they've done a good job, they need our backing," he said.
The Stryker soldiers in Hawai'i are scheduled to deploy to Iraq in November. At the end of that deployment, they will be shipped to the base the Army selects, either in Hawai'i, Colorado or Alaska.
Reach Kevin Dayton at email@example.com.