KAILUA-KONA — Changes are planned at Pohakuloa Training Area as the U.S. Army moves forward with a $210 million overhaul.
The Army is looking to modernize a small portion of the 134,000-acre training space situated between Mauna Loa and Maunakea by replacing aging buildings within PTA’s cantonment area to “improve personnel safety and quality of life,” as well as to meet current building criteria and comply with anti-terrorism standards.
The phased project, which depends on funding availability, comprises demolishing and replacing 123 of the 145 current single-story buildings. The structures are located within 80 acres on the northeastern side of PTA’s cantonment area, a portion of which abuts Daniel K. Inouye Highway near the garrison entrance.
Though there’s a hefty price tag attached and years of construction involved, Army officials stressed that only existing structures will be replaced and that no new buildings are proposed. Building capacity and heights would go largely unchanged and PTA would continue to accommodate a maximum of 2,300 soldiers.
“We’re not making a super-Pohakuloa Training Area,” said Lt. Col. Loreto V. Borce Jr., PTA commander.
The proposed improvements are outlined in a draft environmental assessment (EA) published in the July 8 edition of the Office of Environmental Quality Control’s twice-a-month Environmental Notice. The U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii anticipates a finding of no significant impact.
The publication kicked off a 30-day public comment period ending Aug. 7.
“It’s an important part that we hear the feedback,” said Mike Donnelly, PTA community relations liaison.
Thereafter, the Army will review the comments and either finalize the environmental assessment with a finding of no significant impact and proceed with work, or, if it is found the work will have significant impact, the Army will notify the public of its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for the project.
According to the draft EA, just under half of the 123 structures to be replaced are World War II-era Quonset huts still used as barracks. For more than 60 years, the austere curved-wall buildings have provided soldiers some reprieve from the beating sun, gusty winds and drastic temperature changes faced during training, which can span a couple days to three weeks at a time.
“Coming back to a small building with a bunk bed means a lot when you’re sleeping in a Humvee or sleeping on the lava rocks of Pohakuloa,” Borce, who himself trained at PTA from 2004 to 2006 and 2008 to 2010, said of the important role barracks play to a soldier in training.
The other 67 buildings to be torn down and replaced are used for administration, community purposes, dining, emergency and medical services, and bathrooms and showers, according to the EA.
All 123 buildings demolished would be replaced with modern, one-story concrete masonry units that are similar in height and size to the current structures, according to the EA.
If all goes as planned, replacement of the first structures, which includes two rows of five Quonset huts and associated buildings near the garrison entrance, will start in 2019, according to the document.
So long as funding is available, work would continue in phases through 2023 with construction of 51 barracks, 13 laundry/latrine/shower points, 25 administration buildings, five dining facilities, three medical and emergency services buildings, one storage building, two community buildings and five industrial buildings.
It’s estimated the project will create about 261 construction jobs per year.
According to the environmental document, the project would not impact cultural resources. With minimization measures, the work is “not likely to adversely affect” native flora and fauna such as the Hawaiian goose (nene), Hawaiian Hoary bat, Hawaiian petrel, band-rumped storm petrel and an array of endangered species in PTA’s interpretive garden. In addition, no impact is expected to the Blackburn’s sphinx month or yellow-faced bees.
The draft EA is available online at https://go.usa.gov/xUWwt and http://health.hawaii.gov/oeqc. Paper copies are available at the Hilo, Kailua-Kona and Waimea public libraries.
Comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or to the Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division (IMHW-PWE), Attn: Lisa Graham, 947 Wright Avenue, Wheeler Army Airfield, Schofield Barracks, HI 96857-5013.