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With deadline looming, agreement uncertain on Hawaii live-fire range

Soldiers with 8th Special Troops Battalion, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, conduct a command post exercise, CPX, to tests their ability to deploy to an austere environment and communicate with their main command post during a natural disaster anywhere in the pacific area of operations, at Makua Valley military reservation, Oahu, Hawaii, Feb 27, 2012.

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Army Garrison-Hawaii is seeking to extend an agreement that could eventually allow soldiers to conduct live-fire training at a culturally sensitive area in northern Oahu.

But with a deadline looming Saturday, the state’s top historical preservation officer has yet to support extending the five-year agreement.

It has been 10 years since the Army fired any live rounds at the Makua Military Reservation, which is laden with ancient cultural artifacts revered by some native Hawaiians. It’s also home to dozens of threatened species of plants and animals.

A 2009 federal court order established the agreement and prevents live-fire training until the Army completes mandated cultural and environmental studies, which it is now doing.

“MMR remains a critical piece of the live-fire training strategy for Hawaii and is a linchpin for live fire throughout training requirements,” the garrison told Stars and Stripes in written response to questions about the proposed extension.

The Army broached the issue of extension in March to Hawaii’s State Historic Preservation Division, the local agency that would sign off on it. The agreement had been set to expire in April, but the Army and state preservation division agreed to an extension to May 24.

The garrison had requested another 60-day extension to bring in higher-level Army officials and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the federal body that advises government agencies on the nation’s historic resources.

William Aila, the state’s historic preservation officer, “would not support the extension,” the garrison statement said. The State Historic Preservation Division referred questions to the garrison.

At least one community group, Malama Makua, opposes any extension, maintaining that the site isn’t essential to the Army for live-fire training. “Recent history disproves the Army claim that training at the MMR is necessary for military readiness,” states a letter sent to the garrison by Malama Makua’s attorney, David Henkin, with the environmental organization Earthjustice.

“Since September 1998, only a total of twenty-six live-fire exercises have been conducted at MMR, with no live-fire training at all during thirteen of those sixteen years.”

The garrison has said in the past that the MMR’s close proximity to Schofield Barracks, the long-time home of the 25th Infantry Division, allows soldiers to train locally and reduces their time away from home and family.

The compact nature of Pacific islands makes it difficult for the military to sufficiently seclude live use of large weapons. The garrison’s nearest site for large-weapon live-fire training aside from MMR is on the big island of Hawaii on the 130,000-acre Pohakuloa Training Area. The garrison is in charge of that site, which includes a 50,000-acre artillery impact zone. But the garrison is also under public pressure to end live-fire training at Pohakuloa, which is used by all services branches.

Recent plans by the U.S. to conduct live-fire training in the Marianas islands spurred on a social-media campaign called “Our Islands are Sacred” by residents on nearby Guam.

The Army’s training focus is “returning to the larger weapons systems needed for combined arms maneuver and not characteristic of the peace enforcement functions related to the recent conflicts,” the garrison’s statement said. MMR can accommodate Company Combined Arms Live Fire Exercises, or CALFAX, it said.

Earthjustice filed suit in the late 1990s on behalf of Malama Makua, claiming the Army was not complying with the National Environmental Policy Act. That suit was settled in 2001 when the Army agreed to produce an environmental impact statement, which would include an archaeological survey of surface and subsurface areas in the training area.

The Army issued the impact statement in 2009. Earthjustice subsequently filed a complaint in federal court asserting that the Army had not adequately surveyed the site, and in 2012 the court agreed and ordered more thorough studies be conducted.

“Basically, our position is that any new agreement should not allow for live-fire training,” Henkin said. “There’s not any particular harm done in allowing that agreement to lapse right now.”

olson.wyatt@stripes.com

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