HAWAI`I: Army Back in Court over Failure to Study Contamination Threats to Cultural Sites at Makua

Malama Makua seeks ban on live-fire training until required studies completed


David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436, ext. 614
Sparky Rodrigues, Malama Makua, (808) 352-0059


Malama Makua, represented by Earthjustice, has asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai’i to set aside the Army’s environmental impact statement (EIS) for proposed military training at Makua Military Reservation because the Army failed to prepare key contamination studies and archaeological surveys. Malama Makua also seeks to prevent the Army from resuming live-fire training at Makua until it completes a revised EIS that contains the studies. The Army was required to prepare the studies by an October 2001 settlement of Malama Makua’s earlier lawsuit challenging the Army’s failure to prepare an EIS for Makua, as well as a related settlement in January 2007. 


In the 2001 and 2007 settlements, the Army agreed to carry out comprehensive subsurface archaeological surveys to identify cultural sites that could be damaged or destroyed if mortar rounds, artillery shells, and other ordnance go astray during training exercises, as they have in the past.

"I’ve observed training at Makua and many times have seen mortar rounds missing their targets and landing in places we know are full of ahu [shrines], petroglyphs, imu [earthen ovens], and other cultural sites," said Malama Makua member and cultural practitioner Leandra Wai. "If the Army doesn’t live up to its promises and do a comprehensive survey of Makua’s cultural sites, we’ll never know what we stand to lose if the Army returns to training."

The Army also agreed to conduct comprehensive studies to determine the potential for training activities to contaminate fish, shellfish, limu and other marine resources at Makua that Waiÿanae Coast residents gather for subsistence purposes.

"For thirty years, I’ve been fishing and gathering limu at Makua and putting that food on my family’s table," said Malama Makua member Vince Dodge. "We here on the Wai’anae Coast have a right to know if the Army is poisoning the food we feed our keiki. That’s why Malama Makua has insisted that the Army finally tell us the truth, and why we’re back in court to make sure the Army lives up to its agreements."

The 2001 settlement detailed the scope of work for the studies, which were supposed to be conducted and put out for public review as part of the EIS process, Earthjustice attorney David Henkin explained.

When the Army published a draft EIS in 2005 that did not include the studies, Earthjustice sought to enforce the 2001 settlement. The two sides reached a second settlement in January 2007, with the Army again agreeing to conduct the detailed studies before releasing the final EIS.

"But once again, this was not done," Henkin said. "The only studies of subsurface archaeology and marine contamination the Army did were so poorly designed that even the Army admitted they didn’t provide any meaningful information. This wasn’t what we agreed."

"The Army’s decision to resume training before completing the studies that are needed to find out the true cost of training at Makua is putting the cart before the horse," Henkin said. "The whole point of preparing an EIS is to make informed decisions, not to make choices we’ll later regret after all the facts are in."

Read the complaint (PDF)

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