Army blocked from training in Hawaii valley

U.S. troops participate in live-fire training in Makua Valley on Dec. 8, 2003. A judge ruled that live-fire exercises will no longer be allowed there.Carol Cunningham / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge has denied the Army’s request to resume live-fire training exercises in a valley that Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

The Army wanted to modify a 2001 settlement with the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and a cultural preservation group so it could resume training at Makua Valley on Oahu before thousands of Hawaii-based soldiers deploy to Iraq this summer.

U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled Thursday that the Army has other training areas in California and Hawaii that it can use instead. She said the proposed training in the Makua Valley was likely to degrade biological, cultural and archaeological resources.

The remote valley has been used for military training for decades, but in recent years Native Hawaiian and environmental groups have argued that the Army was destroying ancient cultural sites and endangered plants.

“Today’s ruling makes the task of training of our soldiers to fight and survive on the battlefield more difficult,” said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of the 25th Infantry Division. “However, we will do everything in our power to continue to train our soldiers as thoroughly and realistically as possible.”

Under the 2001 settlement, the Army was allowed to continue limited training there for three years but had to complete an environmental impact study for other any uses.

During that time, a planned burn of brush by the Army raged out of control, scorching more than half of the 4,856-acre valley. No environmental study was conducted, and the Army had to stop using the area in October 2004.

Mixon said the ruling was a temporary setback but the Army would continue to seek permission to train in Makua. “Throughout this process and after training resumes, the Army will protect the environment and culturally sensitive sites located in the valley,” he said.