Hawaii Tribune-Herald: PTA unveils expansion plans

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PTA unveils expansion plans

Wednesday, June 15 12:03 am

By NANCY COOK LAUER

Stephens Media

POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA — They may not know where the money’s coming from, but U.S. Army officials Tuesday laid out ambitious expansion plans while advocating for high altitude flight training and continued monitoring of depleted uranium.

Pohakuloa Training Area is the military’s largest training maneuver area in the Pacific.

The Army is currently undertaking an environmental impact study on the expansion and modernization of the area. It is expected to be completed by fall, said Lt. Col. Rolland Niles, PTA commander.

The EIS anticipates expansion of infantry platoon battle training courses into a 23,000-acre Parker Ranch parcel it acquired in 2006 in a triangular area called Keamuku, where Saddle Road meets Mamalahoa Highway in West Hawaii. The Army, which currently trains as many as 2,000 troops at a time at the PTA site, wants to be able to routinely handle a regiment or more, roughly 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

It also wants to replace its circa 1956 Quonset hut barracks with energy efficient wooden structures and build other facilities including a MOUT, or “military operations on urban terrain” city-like training area for live-fire exercises.

It’s also exploring the feasibility of a well so it won’t have to haul all its water up in trucks, and it needs to modernize wiring and other infrastructure.

“There’s a lot that doesn’t meet Army standards. We’re doing a lot of work-arounds, taking a lot of shortcuts because we don’t have the full facilities we should have,” Niles said. “PTA is usually the last stop before they’re deployed. We take our job seriously here.”

About 100 people attended a four-hour event celebrating the Army’s 236th birthday Tuesday with speakers, displays and tours of PTA’s facilities and equipment.

Budgets will be lean for several reasons, not the least of which is belt-tightening currently under debate in Congress, said Debra Zedalis, regional director of Installation Management Command Pacific.

“PTA is very important to the U.S. military,” Zedalis said. “This is where they hone their warfaring abilities.”

The loss of congressional earmarks is another important reason, added Howard Killian, sustainability coordinator for Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Cost and Economics.

Now funding must go through a six-year programming process, jeopardizing PTA projects already begun under the assumption the earmarks money would continue.

The Army is also continuing its environmental assessment process to add three landing zones for high altitude training, a concept that has drawn opposition from environmentalists and some Native Hawaiians.

“We need this life-saving training,” Niles said. “For us, it’s important.”

Environmentalist Cory Harden said there are many unanswered questions about effects of increased helicopter fly-overs and landings. She questioned the guest list to the birthday event, which included county and state elected officials and a small media group.

“Why wasn’t Sierra Club invited? It has about 700 members on this island,” Harden said in a Monday evening email to officials.

Harden and others are also fighting the Army’s application for a license to possess depleted uranium, in the form of spent spotter rounds from the 1960s.

The Army and Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed the Army’s license to lapse in 1983 or 1984, and the Army is seeking a license to possess as a step in the process of monitoring and containing the weakly radioactive substance. It has applied for an “undue burden” finding to try to speed the process along.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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