The U.S. Army is seeking input for an upcoming environmental impact statement to retain its lease of nearly 23,000 acres at Pohakuloa Training Area.
The move comes nearly nine years before the current 65-year lease meted between the military and state of Hawaii in 1964 expires Aug. 16, 2029, according to a notice published Friday in the Federal Register kicking off a 40-day public scoping period.
“The Army would like to retain the use of the 23,000 acres of state-owned land into the future to train service members locally and prepare them for their missions,” said Pohakuloa Training Area Public Affairs Officer Michael Donnelly. “While 2029 looks like a long ways off, the NEPA process takes roughly four years, and the real estate transaction can take up to five years. Like any property lease, the negotiation for a new lease can begin at the will of the tenant (the U.S. Army in this case) and the first step is to conduct a thorough review of the environmental impacts, including natural and cultural.”
PTA is the largest contiguous live-fire range and maneuver training area in the state and is located in the Saddle, between Mauna Loa and Maunakea. In all, the training area encompasses 132,810 acres and the 23,000 acres of state land provides access between major parcels of U.S. government-owned land.
The lands have been used routinely for military training since 1943, and the state-owned land has been leased by the Army since 1964. Under the lease, the Army paid $1 for the entire 65-year period.
Over the past six decades, the Army said the acreage has supported numerous training facilities and capabilities essential to the military services, as well as local law enforcement and emergency response agencies.
The area contains maneuver land and key training facilities, Donnelly said, some of which are not available elsewhere in the Pacific region. Retaining the lease is necessary for continued military training on the state-owned land to meet its current and future training requirements, the Army said.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said Friday it was reviewing the notice of intent to prepare the environmental document. The department is the lessor of the land to the Army.
The acreage is “ceded land,” which are lands that were held by the civil government or the monarchy of the Hawaiian Kingdom at the time of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. State laws mandate the lands be held in trust by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for the benefit of Native Hawaiians and the general public.
The Hawaii Supreme Court in August 2019 ruled 5-0 upholding a lower court’s determination that the state hadn’t properly managed ceded lands at Pohakuloa leased to the Army for military training. The high court found the state failed to conduct regular monitoring and inspections to prevent the area from “falling into ruin.”
The state was mandated to “develop and execute a plan to conduct regular, periodic monitoring and inspection,” according to the ruling. The Army wasn’t a defendant in the case.
The to-be-prepared EIS will evaluate the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of a range of reasonable alternatives, according to the notice. Alternatives to be considered, include a no action alternative, full lease retention, modified lease retention, and minimum lease retention and access.
Other reasonable alternatives raised during the scoping process and capable of meeting the project purpose and need will be considered for evaluation in the EIS, the Army said.
Written comments can be submitted through Oct. 14 online at https://home.army.mil/hawaii/index.php/PTAEIS, by email to email@example.com, or by mail to: ATLR PTA EIS Comments, P.O. Box 3444, Honolulu, HI 96801-3444. Comments must be mailed or submitted no later than Oct. 14 to be considered in preparation of the EIS.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Army will hold a virtual scoping meeting at 4 p.m. Sept. 23 that will allow participants to view online presentations and call in to submit oral comments until 9 p.m. that day.
The next public comment period on the proposal will come after the publication of a draft EIS, which will trigger a 45-day public comment period. Following publication of a final EIS, The state Board of Land and Natural Resources will determine if it will be accepted.
The Army anticipates the draft EIS will be released by February 2022.