Citizens File Lawsuit to Protect Makua Valley
Today, Malama Makua, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed suit against the U.S. Army, once again seeking an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for training and related activities at Makua Military Reservation (MMR) on O`ahu. On December 15, the Army had announced its finding of no significant impact (FONSI), which constitutes the Army's determination that an EIS is not required and that it may resume training. Under a prior settlement agreement with Malama Makua, the Army must wait at least 30 days from the issuance of the FONSI to resume training. Malama Makua filed its complaint and motion for preliminary injunction today so that a hearing could be scheduled in a timely manner prior to any resumption of live-fire training.
Malama Makua also seeks to continue a dialogue with the Army regarding alternative locations for the live-fire assault training proposed for MMR, such as Schofield Barracks. Since MMR has been closed to training for the past two years, the Army has used Schofield and other ranges in Hawai'i and other countries to compensate. Malama Makua has requested in writing that the Army engage the community in a dialogue regarding such alternatives. However, a single town hall meeting, as proposed by the Army for January 17, 2001, will not be sufficient. Such a dialogue will require multiple, regularly scheduled meetings, detailed advance preparation by representatives of all sides, skilled facilitation, and an openness to new ideas.
"The Army's decision not to do an EIS is a grave disappointment for the Wai`anae community, which has said for years that the military's training at Makua Military Reservation has a significant impact on the people, the land, and the resources at Makua," said Sparky Rodrigues of Malama Makua. "However, we still hold out hope that the Army will take a fresh look at alternative places to train."
Under NEPA, federal agencies must prepare an EIS for any major federal action significantly affecting the human environment. An EIS is a detailed document that must discuss, among other things, the environmental impacts of the proposed federal action (including any ecological, aesthetic, historic, cultural, economic, social and health effects, whether direct or indirect) and any alternatives to the proposed action. If an agency is unsure whether the effects of its actions will be "significant," it may first prepare an environmental assessment (EA) to help make that determination.
"Given the biological and cultural riches that are threatened by Army training at Makua, an EIS is clearly in order. Doing an EIS right off the bat, rather than trying to get by with an EA, would have been the best use of taxpayer money," said Paul Achitoff, managing attorney of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which represents Malama Makua.
No training has taken place at MMR since September 1998 when, in response to a letter from Malama Makua indicating its intent to sue, the Army resumed consultations with the Service under the federal Endangered Species Act. The area affected by training at MMR provides habitat for over 30 endangered plants, the endangered `elepaio bird, the endangered pupu kani oe (O`ahu tree snail), and dozens of additional Hawaiian plants and animals. Military training causes fires and introduces alien plants and animals that pose great threats to native species and their habitat.
Fires from training and controlled burns, unexploded ordnance, military transport along Farrington Highway, smoke, and noise threaten public health, safety, and well-being. Erosion from maneuvers and fires threaten cultural sites and nearshore water quality. Heavy metals and other pollutants remain in the soil from decades of hazardous waste disposal and live-fire training.