The U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai'i issued an order Thursday denying the U.S. Army's request to conduct live-fire training exercises at Mäkua Military Reservation on O'ahu prior to completing a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). On October 4, 2001, the Army voluntarily entered into a settlement with community group Mälama Mäkua calling for a complete ban on live-fire training at Mäkua if it did not complete the EIS by October 4, 2004. Since the Army is more than a year late in completing the EIS, the court held that, "[h]aving failed to satisfy the law, the Army may not resume live fire training at Makua."
Noting that training is available to the Army at locations such as the National Training Center in California and Pöhakuloa Training Area on the island of Hawai'i, the court rejected the Army's claims that training at Mäkua is vital to prepare soldiers for deployment to Iraq as "vehement pronouncements and speculation." In contrast to the Army's speculative claims, the court found "the record establishes that allowing the Army to conduct live fire training at Makua is likely to significantly degrade biological, cultural, and archaeological resources in Makua, as well as rights to access cultural sites."
Mäkua, which means "parents" in Hawaiian, is a sacred site, rich in cultural resources. Over 100 Native Hawaiian cultural sites have been identified at Mäkua, including heiau (Hawaiian temples), ahu (altars), burials and petroglyphs. Fires sparked by training threaten to destroy more than 40 federally listed endangered species and the unique native forest on which they depend for survival.
"The court saw past the rhetoric and ruled based on the facts," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who represents Mälama Mäkua. "The facts are that, while the Army has many other places it can conduct live-fire training while it complies with NEPA's requirement to complete the EIS, the cultural and biological treasures at Mäkua are found there, and nowhere else. If the Army were allowed to destroy these treasures through a training-related fire or misfired artillery shell, they would be lost to the people of Hawai'i forever."
Mälama Mäkua is a non-profit, community organization based on the Wai'anae Coast of O`ahu. Formed in 1992 to oppose the Army's open burn/open detonation permit application to the EPA, Mälama Mäkua has continued to monitor military activities at Mäkua and has participated in a number of community initiatives to care for the land and resources at Mäkua.
Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Hawai'i regional office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai'i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services.