Fw: [demilnet_Hawaii] Army could double live fire training on the Big Island

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Sent: Sunday, May 18, 2008 8:20 AM
Subject: [demilnet_Hawaii] Army could double live fire training on the Big Island

More troops may train at Pohakuloa

Military seeks comment on expansion plan

by Bret Yager
Stephens Media

Sunday, May 18, 2008 7:37 AM HST

HILO -- The Army could double live fire training on the Big Island and increase the number of soldiers in the state by 3,000 under a draft plan released for public comment.

The draft environmental impact statement examines three alternatives for increasing combat service or combat support troops by 1,000 to 3,000 at bases in Hawaii -- part of a plan to increase and realign forces in the Pacific Theater.

The Army may also add a 2,500- to 2,900-man combat air brigade that would do helicopter machine gun and rocket training at Pohakuloa Training Area.

The first alternative would add 1,000 soldiers, the second alternative would add 3,000 soldiers, and the third alternative would add the 80- to 100-helicopter aviation brigade.

The soldiers would be based at Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter, and would train at Pohakuloa.

The scenarios include increasing forces at Alaska facilities by 330 to 2,000 soldiers. The Army is also considering a "no action" alternative. The plan is part of a much larger Army transformation from divisions of 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers to smaller, rapidly deployable brigade combat teams.

The public has until June 30 to comment on the draft.

"We're soliciting public input so we can see what the issues are out there," said Col. Wayne Shanks, chief of public affairs for U.S. Army Pacific Region. "From there, depending on the number and type of concerns, it'll take us a couple of months to address the concerns and publish a final EIS. We're probably looking toward the end of the summer."

Alternative one would have only minor impacts on the environment, noise levels, and biological and cultural resources. The second and third alternatives would have significant but manageable impacts to air quality, biological resources and noise levels, according to the EIS.

Stationing an air brigade would more than double the rounds fired at Pohakuloa's aviation gunnery range. It would also mean an upgrade and expansion of the present aviation gunnery range, known as Range 20, including new targets and installation of an aviation weapons scoring system.

The helicopters would fly from Wheeler Army Airfield, and crews would fire rockets and practice with machine guns from the chopper doorways at Pohakuloa. The helicopters would generally fly at about 300 feet on the maneuver from Wheeler Army Airfield to Pohakuloa Training Area, and the increase in flights would mean an increase in noise. The helicopters generally fly over the ocean but could pass over residential areas, the EIS states.

The blast radius from rocket fire would "dramatically increase" the risk of fires, according to the draft. But the range will continue a fire-control regimen that includes fire breaks and fuel breaks, dip ponds for helicopter fire fighting and controlled burns to manage vegetation.

Live-fire training and ordnance detonation would also kick up dirt and dust.

"We're looking at all of the possible impacts; it's not that all of these things are going to happen," Shanks said. "We're trying to see if it's even feasible for us to do this."

Range 20 is within Pohakuloa's 51,000-acre impact area but several miles south of four sites where cold war-era depleted uranium is believed to be. The aviation gunnery range contains unexploded ordnance that would have to be cleared to make way for the expansion.

"If you look at the type of units being considered, you're talking mainly about combat support, engineers, truck companies, military police -- not infantry or artillery units," Shanks said. "So these are the same folks we would call on in a natural disaster like a hurricane."

Pohakuloa's wide open training areas give the Army a "unique location" in the Pacific Theater for large-scale combined arms maneuver training, according to the EIS.

Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and special operations forces train at Pohakuloa using a wide variety of weapons, including anti-tank weapons, mortars, field artillery, air defense artillery, machine guns, rockets, demolitions and small arms.

Public comments on the draft environmental impact statement may be sent to Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Environmental Command, Building E4460, 5179 Hoadley Road, Attention: IMAE-PA, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD 21010-5401. The phone number is (410) 436-2556; fax is (410) 436-1693. E-mail comments to: APGR-USAECPublicComments@conus.army.mil

 

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