Army gets set to resume live-fire training in Makua Valley

Kaleo Patterson
Kaleo Patterson
Col. Matthew Margotta
Col. Matthew Margotta

By Leland Kim - bio | email

MAKUA VALLEY (KHNL) - The U.S. Army announced Friday plans to resume live fire exercises in Makua Valley.   In June 2004, the Army suspended training after brushfires scorched the area.

There was also a lawsuit by a native Hawaiian group who was concerned about harm to endangered animals and plants. The Army now feels it can move forward with this and has included native Hawaiians in the process.

Only from the sky can one truly appreciate the vast beauty of Makua Valley. 4,190 acres blanket the leeward side. The valley and the nearby bay are sacred to native Hawaiians.

"We have many families that have been using the bay for many years to scatter the ashes of their loved ones," said Kaleo Patterson, who lives near Makua Valley.

During World War II, the Army began using Makua Valley as a training site. Army officials say this land is crucial in getting troops ready for war.

"It's the only place that has the space, it's the only place that has the conditions, it's the only place that's far enough away from the community where you're not going to be impacted by noise and a variety of different things," said Col. Matthew Margotta, Commander of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.

Live fire exercises in Makua valley concerned some native Hawaiians.

"I think for years there's always been a sense of loss," said Patterson. "Hawaiians say kaumaha, a heaviness about the use or the misuse of the valley."

A lawsuit by a native Hawaiian group called Hui Malama O Makua caused the Army to re-examine its strategy.

"The Army fully recognizes that there has to be a balance between our training and our operational needs and our impacts on our community," said Col. Margotta.

The Army completed an environmental impact statement and is limiting training to areas away from endangered species and sensitive regions.

To make sure soldiers don't get into cultural sites or areas that are too dangerous for them, these red and yellow stakes are used to let them know where they can and cannot go.

The Army has also eliminated the use of ammunition that could cause fires.

"If the conditions aren't suitable to conduct live fire training, in other words, if the danger of causing a fire is too great, the Army won't conduct that live fire training," said Col. Margotta.

Some native Hawaiians welcome this new approach and are hopeful the Army can conduct its exercises with minimal harm to the environment.

"It does seem like the Army has really come on board to take seriously their role in caring for the land," said Patterson. "It feels very positive today and I'm hopeful."

The Army says it hopes to resume live-fire training after August.

The attorney for the native Hawaiian group that filed the lawsuit says he will go back to court if the Army decides to go ahead with its plan.