Army EIS Picks Hawaii As Stryker First Choice

Army EIS Picks Hawaii As Stryker First Choice
February 17th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Army EIS Picks Hawaii As Stryker First Choice

Army EIS Picks Hawaii As Stryker First Choice
Honolulu Advertiser
February 16, 2008 By William Cole, Advertiser Military Writer
The Army moved closer to a permanent basing of the Stryker brigade in Hawai'i yesterday, saying an environmental analysis concludes that Schofield Barracks is the preferred location for the armored vehicle unit.
The completion of the environmental impact statement, or EIS, is a significant milestone in the Army's four-year legal battle with environmentalists and Native Hawaiians over the impact of the 19-ton Stryker vehicles.
The Army was ordered by a federal appeals court in 2006 to look at alternative locations as a follow up to an initial EIS. The Army looked at Hawai'i, Alaska and Colorado.
The Army originally selected Hawai'i in 2001 as a location for one of the fast-strike units, and the Army's EIS now confirms that choice.
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawai'i, said he was pleased the Army recommended Schofield Barracks as the preferred location for the Stryker brigade.
"I am confident that in this supplemental EIS, the Army has carefully considered the strengths and weaknesses of each alternative location," Akaka said in a release. "It is my understanding that the Army's recommendation to permanently base the (Stryker brigade) in Hawai'i supports their efforts to ensure strategic deployment capabilities in the (Pacific) region, provide optimal training opportunities ... and offers the highest quality of life for our soldiers and their families."
But the legal wrangling may not be over yet.
In an unusual move, the Army announced the conclusion of the Environmental Impact Statement a week before it is published and explained in the Federal Register, a requirement under federal law.
That means the rationale for the decision might not be known until Friday.
That left the plaintiffs yesterday seeking the answers that will come next week.
"The Army has some serious explaining to do to the people of Hawai'i as to why it's proceeding the way it is (with Hawai'i as the preferred location)," said David Henkin, an Earthjustice attorney representing three plaintiff groups.
More questions
Henkin said he'll be examining the EIS carefully when it comes out to see why a separate Army environmental study said new Stryker brigades could be located at Fort Bliss in Texas, the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, or the Yakima Training Center and Fort Lewis, both in Washington state.
The EIS for Hawai'i's Stryker brigade only looked at Schofield Barracks, Fort Carson in Colorado, and Fort Richardson in Alaska, Henkin said.
Henkin said in particular, he questions why the Army did not look at Fort Lewis a base that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said should be examined as an alternative for the Hawai'i brigade.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Henkin said. "It's going to depend on a lot of things, including what the final EIS looks like."
The EIS was completed after three groups 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, Na 'Imi Pono and Kipuka sued in 2004 to halt the Hawai'i Stryker project.
The lawsuit charged that the Stryker project would damage Native Hawaiian cultural sites and harm endangered species and their habitats.
In October 2006, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Army violated the law by not adequately considering alternative locations outside Hawai'i for the $1.5 billion Stryker brigade.
The court ordered the Army to complete a supplemental EIS.
The outcome will determine whether the 4,000 Stryker brigade soldiers now deployed to Iraq with 328 of the eight-wheeled vehicles will return late this year or early in 2009 to Schofield Barracks, Fort Richardson or Fort Carson.
What's at stake
The Army said it initially considered "the full spectrum of Army installations" elsewhere as potential sites before concluding that the bases in Alaska and Colorado were the most viable as alternatives to Hawai'i.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, said he'd been briefed on the details of the Army's EIS. Its completion is an important step in determining if Schofield will be the final location for the Stryker brigade, he said.
But Abercrombie, who advocates the Army giving up efforts to train in Makua Valley, a place of importance to some Hawaiians, said the Stryker EIS also is part of a long-running controversy.
"We want our military forces in Hawai'i to have the most productive use of their bases and training facilities. The men and women of the 25th Infantry's Stryker Brigade Combat Team now deployed in Iraq certainly deserve a welcome place to come home to," Abercrombie said in a release. "We certainly want the Army to remain valued and respected citizens of Hawai'i who value and respect the people and culture of our state."
Also at stake in the Stryker decision are nearly $700 million in construction projects for the brigade on O'ahu and the Big Island.
Some of those projects were completed, but others were halted with the lawsuit. Officials said if the decision is made to keep the Stryker brigade in Hawai'i, as expected, previous contracts will remain in effect, rather than having to rebid the work.

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