Army agrees to restore access to Hawaiian cultural sites
HONOLULU (AP) — The U.S. Army has agreed to restore access to a valley considered sacred on Oahu in a settlement with a Native Hawaiian cultural group.
The Army has settled the 2016 federal lawsuit by Malama Makua, agreeing to pay $80,000 in attorney fees and to address an unexploded ordnance stockpile at the Makua Military Reservation, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.
Environmental law organization Earthjustice represented the group in its latest action in a long-running legal dispute over Makua Valley, the site of decades of military training.
The lawsuit was filed after the Army suddenly blocked access to the cultural sites in June 2014, claiming it needed to obtain clearance from historic preservations to cut grass on trails leading to the sites after an agreement that governed vegetation maintenance expired.
“Prior to the Army’s abrupt decision to bar access, the Army had cut grass to allow access to cultural sites for nearly 13 years, without incident,” Earthjustice said in a statement.
The Army determined the grass was too tall to allow safe access because unexploded ordnance might be difficult to avoid, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claimed the Army violated a 2001 court settlement that allowed the group to access the sacred sites twice a month.
“We look forward to working with all parties involved. Makua Valley has been used to train our service members for nearly 100 years,” U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii said in a statement. “The valley continues to be an active training range, and the safety of our soldiers, civilian workers and community members entering the area is a responsibility the Army welcomes and takes very seriously.”
The settlement restores access to all but two sites, which remain closed because they are within the blast radius of the ordnance stockpile, Earthjustice said. The Army has agreed to mitigate the hazard.
Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com