Residents of West Oahu wary of possible Marine Corps expansion

As the Marine Corps moves forward with an ambitious restructuring of all of its forces and the repositioning of its forces in the Pacific, military leaders are exploring locations in the Ewa Plains and other areas of West Oahu for new training grounds and potential housing for troops and their families.

But the research comes at a time when residents of some communities have rethought their relationship with the military after a series of changes to existing facilities and new projects proposed. Residents, state officials and lawmakers have increasingly complained about the lack of transparency and public engagement regarding military projects in the Westside.

“By the time we learn of it, they have already made up their minds,” said Mike Plowman, a Navy veteran and Ewa Beach resident who grew up in the community. “Our contribution seems worthless. “

Approximately 2,700 new Marines and their families are expected to come from Okinawa to Hawaii by 2030, adding to the 8,000 already in attendance. The Marines will also receive new ballistic missiles, drones, warships and other systems as they reorganize the force to focus on potential island or coastal clashes with Chinese or Russian troops.

But the were concerns as to whether the Marine Corps has sufficient space or adequate facilities in Oahu for new troops and equipment, reports from the Government Accountability Office and the Marine Corps itself expressing doubts.

Space search

“The Marine Corps, as part of a larger DoD effort, is currently exploring several options to determine the best locations to train and house the required future force in Hawaii,” said Marine Corps spokesperson Capt. Eric Abrams in an email. “We are currently awaiting the results of a land use study and a course and training area needs study, which will determine the facility requirements.”

The government’s National Environmental Policy Act requires agencies to consider the environmental impacts of proposed actions before construction begins, but considerable planning is often spent on projects in advance.

“Once the requirements for any proposed action have been developed, the NEPA process will begin and the public will have the opportunity to review and comment on any NEPA installation review,” said Abrams.

On September 13, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that the Marine Corps was focusing on locations in West Oahu, including parts of what was once Barbers Point Naval Air Station, a base closed from the Ewa Plains.

The Marines have a history there, once operating Marine Corps Air Station Ewa. It was one of many places on Oahu hit by Japanese forces December 7, 1941, as part of the world’s largest airstrike on Pearl Harbor. The base was then absorbed into the Barbers Point facility, which became a Cold War aviation hub.

At the time, the Ewa Plain was largely rural, allowing the army to operate unhindered. But since the base closed in 1999, the communities of Ewa Beach, Kalaeloa and Kapolei have become growing residential centers, causing friction over residential, commercial and military development issues.

U.S. Marines storm Marine Corps Base Pyramid Rock Beach in Hawaii after landing on the beach via amphibious assault vehicles during RIMPAC exercises.  Kaneohe Hawaii.  July 30, 2016
The Marine Corps searches western Oahu for locations for potential new installations as it reorganizes to focus on island and coastal fighting to counter China and Russia. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

Ewa Ward Council vice-chairman Alex Gaos said military community liaisons had made no mention of the search for locations in the Westside during meetings or sent any notification as far as it was. know.

“A new base or just accommodation in Ewa will worsen traffic problems nearby and on H1,” said Karen Luke, resident of Ewa Beach. “The Horton and UH-West development are ahead of any base or residential development at Barbers Point and will further increase traffic, so you will see a lot of backsliding from westerners.”

Hawaii State Senator Mike Gabbard, who represents Kapolei and other parts of the Ewa Plain, also said he was not aware of the potential for new facilities in his district. Senatorial Minority Leader Kurt Fevella, who represents Ewa Beach, accused the military of planning projects without sufficiently involving the public. Fevella did not respond to requests for comment.

I hope that any training grounds or potential military accommodation will be carefully considered at community meetings, neighborhood council meetings, church meetings, Kapolei chamber of commerce, etc. Gabbard said in an email. “It’s super important to give the community the opportunity to express themselves.”

Rising tensions

Plowman, who grew up in a Navy family, reminded Ewa of her youth as a labor community of local farm laborers and military families. Despite friction between the military and local families elsewhere in Oahu, he said he always felt at home in Ewa – it was there that he learned to surf.

But relations between the military and the historically friendly community of the troops have deteriorated in recent years after a series of feuds over other projects.

The Puuloa Rifle Range Training Center at Ewa Beach was in operation for over a century and most locals have grown accustomed to the sound of gunfire, but tensions rose in 2017 after the military installed a loudspeaker to shout instructions at troops.

Residents began to complain that the noise was reverberating through the beach community from 6 a.m., and many said their calls for the military were ignored.

The military also criticized a proposed “coastal stabilization project”, which would involve drive a sheet pile retaining wall into the beach to protect the range from coastal erosion.

Plowman was one of the main opponents of the project after he used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain an environmental assessment conducted by the Marines in 2015. The assessment cautioned that although the wall may protect the facility from erosion, it “would do nothing to reduce beach erosion” and that “on sandy shores suffering from long term beach erosion, [these methods] will likely result in the loss of the sandy beach.

Plowman collected 800 signatures on a petition asking the Marine Corps to produce a formal environmental impact statement. In March, Gabbard also introduced a non-binding resolution requesting that the Marine Corps produce an EIS for the project.

However, under federal law, the military can exempt itself from regular environmental requirements in certain cases. Since the range is on federal land, Hawaii officials have no authority over the project.

Navy veteran Mike Plowman grew up in Ewa and returned to make it his home. Now he has more and more questions about the military’s plans for his community. Kevin Knodell / Civil Beat / 2020

“The Puuloa chain goes against all common sense in a predominantly residential area,” Luke said. The Ewa Beach resident complained that the Army’s management of the project and concerns about the impact of the Navy’s installation at Red Hill are “further examples of mismanagement of the environment and of how the military is deaf to the residents of the Pacific “.

Last year, public pressure forced the military and navy to extend the comment window on another Westside project – new ammunition depot at the West Loch Marine Annex. The plan is to move all army ammunition from aging facilities near Waianae.

West Loch was the site of an infamous munitions handling incident that sparked a mass of explosions and fires that destroyed ships and killed hundreds of soldiers during World War II. The Navy covered the disaster in the press, not recognizing its magnitude until the 1960s.

Since then, important residential developments have sprung up nearby. The proximity of the future heavy ammunition storage facility upset many residents, as did what some saw as a lack of transparency on the plans.

I can’t believe that a major munitions facility will be built a few thousand feet from our residences, ”said Luke. “Even a small accident will impact us. Any major ammunition setup should be on their knees, not ours. “

Sensitization

Military officials defended their outreach efforts, pointing out that they had published information notices on the West Loch project. But Hawaii officials have been deeply critical.

“Residents and the public have a right to know what is going on in their immediate environment,” Fevella wrote in a letter to military officials Last year. “Information about this should not be placed in obscure legal notice sections in publications where residents of our affected communities … would never read or see.” “

The latest version of the congressional defense spending bill includes $ 51 million for the West Loch storage facility. It also includes several provisions written by Hawaii Representative Ed Case calling on the military to engage more with the public.

The bill calls on the military to produce a report on its coordination of relations with state and local government entities in Hawaii and asks the Pentagon to review current community outreach efforts and suggest ways to improve community awareness and transparency in the islands.

New legislation would require the military to review its outreach efforts and report on its land use plans in Hawaii. Kevin Knodell / Civil Beat / 2020

The bill would also require the military to update its Hawaii Land Use Master Plan every five years through 2045 and require the Marine Corps to provide a report identifying its infrastructure needs to support its realignment. in the Pacific.

Abrams said the current Marines Land Use Study is an “update” of work done in 2013 to assess land under military control for the long-planned relocation of troops from Okinawa as part of an agreement with Japan.

“During the NEPA process, we will solicit and consider public input into the proposed action in accordance with NEPA and the implementation of Department of the Navy and Marine Corps guidelines,” Abrams said.


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