Hawaii Tribune-Herald: Talk focuses on PTA expansion

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Monday, July 11 1:02 am

By CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK

Stephens Media

The Army is undertaking an environmental impact study for the expansion and modernization of Pohakuloa Training Area. It is expected to be completed by fall, said Lt. Col. Rolland “Chris” Niles, PTA commander.

Niles discussed PTA’s mission, vision, projects, partnerships and upcoming plans Sunday during the Kawaihae Local Resource Council’s monthly meeting at Hamakau Macadamia Nut Co. He also provided information about PTA’s natural resources and cultural programs, as well as presented the Army’s more than $250 million wish list of future projects, such as ammunition storage facilities, an aviation gunnery range, electrical upgrades and packaged sewer system.

Throughout his hour-long presentation, Niles stressed the need to provide home-station training for Hawaii-based troops as more return and are not deployed. He also mentioned how expensive it was to send local troops to the mainland for training.

The first proposed modernization the Army wants to pursue is the expansion of the infantry platoon battle area, which would include a course for soldiers on foot with objectives and targets, a live-fire “shoothouse,” and a 24-building military operations on urban terrain, or MOUT, site that replicates a village. The existing area is “undersized” and doesn’t meet current training requirements, Niles said.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 troops annually use PTA, including Army soldiers, Hawaii-based and transiting Marines and the Hawaii National Guard. The Army wants to be able to routinely handle a regiment or more. It’s hoping to begin construction on the estimated $29 million infantry platoon battle area in 2013, Niles said.

Increasing high-altitude mountainous environmental training for helicopter crews on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa is also being proposed. The conditions and landscape of these mountains are similar to Afghanistan, where operations routinely exceed 10,000 feet. The proposed training was determined to have “no significant impact” in an environmental assessment released in December. The training is “crucial” and helps prepare the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade for deployment, Niles said.

The Army wants to replace its 1950s-era Quonset hut barracks with energy efficient wooden structures. It’s also exploring the feasibility of a full-production well so it will have water security and won’t have to haul all its water up in trucks to its Big Island facilities — a task costing more than $3 million annually, Niles said.

Following Niles’ presentation, planner Jeff Melrose explained the process of creating administrative rules for public and commercial activities in the University of Hawaii management areas on Mauna Kea.

Two years ago, the Legislature mandated UH to establish these rules, intended to protect natural and cultural resources, as well as promote public health, safety and education. This process formalizes many operational guidelines already in effect and provides clarity on commercial activities like tours. It also will bring these rules into conformance with adjoining Natural Area Reserve and Forest Reserve rules, Melrose said.

Prior to developing administrative rules, UH created the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan with four sub plans addressing public access, cultural resources management, natural resources management and decommissioning observatories. These plans were approved in 2009 by the Board of Land and Natural Resources and are available at malamamaunakea.org.

Melrose said the administrative rules are “data driven” and being created with the focus that “Mauna Kea is a public resource.” He anticipated the draft rules will be released early next year, also when public hearings will ocur.

Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at clucas-zenk@westhawaiitoday.com.

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