Today, Earthjustice, representing Wai`anae Coast community group Malama Makua, reached agreement with the U.S. Army to allow convoy ambush exercises starting Monday, December 8, 2003, at Makua Military Reservation (MMR) on O`ahu. The agreement permits realistic training for 25th Infantry Division soldiers scheduled to be deployed overseas, while limiting the threats to Makua's scores of cultural sites and more than 40 endangered species by prohibiting use of artillery or mortars. The agreement must be approved by the Hawai'i district court since it proposes changes to an October 4, 2001, settlement in a suit Earthjustice brought on behalf of Malama Makua in 2000 to challenge the Army's failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. The court order entering the settlement strictly limits training at MMR pending preparation of an environmental impact statement.
"While we don't believe that any military training at Makua is appropriate, we understand the Army's desire to make sure its soldiers are prepared to defend themselves," explained Malama Makua board member Sparky Rodrigues. "We looked for a way to let the Army do this defensive training while limiting the potential to damage the cultural sites and native species that make Makua so precious."
Artillery shells and mortars – which are prohibited under the agreement – can destroy the heiau (Hawaiian temples), ahu (altars), petroglyphs and other cultural sites that surround the impact area for live-fire training. In May 2003, participants in a cultural visit to MMR found shrapnel and impact craters from misfired mortars in the midst of a site containing ancient imu (underground ovens). These same weapons have a history of starting wildfires that burn into the native forest on the ridges surrounding Makua, threatening the more than 40 endangered animals and plants found there. In September 1998, a misfired mortar sparked a blaze that scorched 800 acres and nearly destroyed several populations of endangered plants.
"Our overriding goal is to ensure that the Army complies with its legal duty to protect Makua's biological and cultural treasures," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. "Eliminating artillery and mortars went a long way toward addressing our concerns with the proposed convoy training."
Under the court's October 2001 order, the Army is authorized to carry out up to 12 company combined arms live-fire exercises (CALFEXs) at MMR between October 4, 2003 and October 3, 2004. CALFEXs typically involve soldiers practicing attacking and clearing a trench system. Under today's agreement, the convoy ambush exercises would be conducted instead of two of the 12 CALFEXs.
"Frankly, if the Army is concerned about 'training as they fight,' these convoy exercises have a lot more to do with what soldiers are currently facing than attacking trenches in a CALFEX," said Malama Makua board member Fred Dodge. "The Army should give that serious thought as it assesses the continued need for Makua in its environmental impact statement, since there are many other places it can carry out convoy exercises."