Army Helicopters on Hawai`i Island Mountains

by Cory Harden

Sierra Club is calling for a Federal Environmental Impact Statement for high-altitude Army helicopter training proposed for Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Some Hawai’i Island residents are calling for a Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) meeting in Hilo. The Army is seeking a permit with no public meetings, though the helicopters would expand Pohakuloa training into the Conservation District. The Army re-wrote its Environmental Assessment (EA), but it is still inadequate.

No public meetings were held on the EA, or on permits for similar training done earlier. Maps printed from the online EA couldn’t even be seen with a magnifying glass. Sierra Club didn’t receive a paper EA till the working day before the comment deadline. Many affected parties were left out of consultation.

Pilots are now sent to Colorado for training, and may be able to continue that. Only two hours flight time are needed per pilot.

Safety analysis is inadequate for helicopter maneuvers so challenging they require three weeks of specialized training. The EA says nothing about eight fatalities from Army helicopter crashes in Hawai’i in 2001 and 2009. It omits fatal military helicopter crashes in 1996 and 2011, plus one forced landing in 2011, in Hawai’i. It omits two recent high-altitude helicopter crashes in Colorado—one fatal. It does not say why an Army helicopter missed a Mauna Kea landing zone by three miles in 2003, or discuss flying debris and noise from future helicopters landing next to the Mauna Loa road.

The EA does not say how pilots will confirm that landing zones are clear at night. It does not say whether lights will used to avoid aircraft collisions, nor evaluate any impacts to people and wildlife from lights.

Noise is evaluated using day-night and even annual averages, plus a method that under-estimates low-frequency noise. Noise maps contradict the text. An Army (not independent) study is the only one cited re. noise impacts on wildlife. It’s unclear if one, or more, helicopters are assumed in noise analysis, though each mountain may get three helicopters at a time.

Helicopters will fly right over the only designated critical habitat for endangered palila birds. Only 1,200 palila may be left. 90% of known palila and all successful breeding happen on the southwest side of Mauna Kea. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found petrel surveys inadequate. Three landing zones are inside ‘io range. One is just outside a nene sanctuary. Bats have been seen near some landing zones. Helicopters may fly at 200 feet in areas one mile wide above six landing zones, but some biological surveys only cover about one-tenth of that area.

The EA cites the high level of visual (and noise) impacts from current air trafiic—but instead of analyzing cumulative impacts, uses this as a rationale for generating more impacts. The EA claims visual and noise impacts on cultural practitioners, hunters, hikers, and sightseers will be insignificant.

The EA doesn’t say when helicopter training will end.


by Cory Harden

Petitioners challenging an Army application for a license to possess depleted uranium (DU) are awaiting a decision from the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on standing and contention admissibility.  The petitioners are Jim Albertini (Mlu Aina Center for Non-violent Education & Action), Cory Harden (a Moku Loa Group Executive Committee member, but acting as an individual), and Isaac Harp (all from Hawai`i Island), and Luwella Leonardi of O`ahu.  The petitioners questioned the Army’s assessment of hazards from DU spotting rounds found in Hawai`i.

The Army denied having DU in Hawai`i until 2006 when citizen groups announced they had obtained Army e-mails reporting the 2005 discovery of DU spotting rounds at Schofield Barracks on the island of O`ahu.  The spotting rounds were part of a classified Davy Crockett weapon system used in the 1960s.  The Army acknowledged the find, and later found more spotting rounds at Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) on Hawai`i.  The rounds were also distributed to twelve other states and three foreign countries in the 1960s.  The Army says worldwide it had about 75,000 rounds, each about eight inches long and containing about six and a half ounces of DU alloy.

Albertini, Harden and Harp said Army searches, reports and air monitoring plans for DU at Pohakuloa Training Area are inadequate, so airborne DU from live-fire and dummy bombs impacting undiscovered spotting rounds may go undetected.  They noted that the same concerns were expressed by several professionals: Dr. Mike Reimer, a geologist and Dr. Marshall Blann, a consultant to Los Alamos National Laboratory (both from Kona), and Dr. Lorrin Pang from Maui, a former Army doctor who is a consultant to the World Health Organization.

Albertini and Harden called for a search of classified and unclassified records by all military forces in Hawai`i for other forgotten radioactive hazards.  Albertini called for independent testing and for investigation of reports that animals from the PTA area have tumors.  He said the Army has ignored Hawai`i County Council resolutions concerning DU.  Albertini and Harp called for a halt to live-fire and other activities that might disperse dust at PTA, and questioned whether the Army has disclosed the full extent of its DU use in Hawai`i. Harp expressed concern about high rates of cancer and of a rare neurological disease on Hawai`i Island.  Leonardi said the Army dug up and trucked out DU-contaminated soil at Schofield, but the Army said the soil was uncontaminated.

We commend the NRC for setting up a video conference hearing in January and easing petition requirements, since we couldn’t afford a lawyer,” said Harden.  “The hearing spotlighted the flawed Army response to DU,” she said.


by Cory Harden

We urge residents to attend upcoming Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) meetings on radioactive depleted uranium (DU) at Pohakuloa and call for:

  • Cease fire – Stop live fire and dummy bombing until the NRC license process is complete.
  • Fund independent testing – Have air monitoring run by non-government groups, but funded by the Federal Government, as at Rocky Flats.
  • Survey all Pohakuloa – Only suspected DU ranges were closely surveyed.
  • Hunt for forgotten hazards – Search open and classified records for other forgotten hazards left by all      branches of the military, U.S. and foreign, throughout Hawai`i.

Meeting Times:  Wednesday, August 26, 6:00-8:30 pm.; King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel,  75-5660 Palani Road, Kailua-Kona. Thursday, August 27, 6:00-8:30 pm.; Hilo High School, 556 Waianuenue Ave., Hilo


May 14, 2009, Hilo, Hawai`i.
By Cory Harden

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) plans meetings in Hawai`i on a depleted uranium (DU) license for the Army, DU studies at Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) are being questioned, and the NARC and another agency involved in studies have come under fire.
“…What is proposed by the U.S. Army for future studies at PTA will fall far short of providing the best information possible at this time,” said Dr. Mike Reimer, PhD., a Kona geologist, in a March letter to Army Colonel Howard Killian.  “…The study design … may present itself as a feel-good approach, but it is unfortunately misleading…” he adds.  Reimer’s background includes chairing the environmental radioactivity section for special meetings within the American Nuclear Society; doing radiation-site contamination evaluations in Eastern Europe; and serving as guest editor for the Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry.
In a March e-mail, Dr. Lorrin Pang, a WHO consultant, said “Those in charge of the [DU] assessment … do not adequately address the … form of the material, the routes of exposure, distribution in the body of non-soluble vs. soluble compounds, target organs, nor the variations in half-life and clearance from the body …”  He added, “… their own referral agencies and advisors on the topic were those whose science was so flawed that they missed diagnosing the existence of Gulf War syndrome … the survey testing … will miss all large remnants of Spotter rounds … The survey lacks controls … to evaluate the specificity and sensitivity of the tests as well as control sites to compare to background radiation levels … The sampling scheme … is very subjective and hard to interpret …”  Dr. Pang is a former Army doctor and has been listed in America’s Best Doctors.  He is also Director of Maui Department of Health, but speaks on DU as a private citizen.
But an Army handout says, “DU present on Hawai`i’s ranges does not pose an imminent or immediate threat to human health.”
“To evaluate conflicting views, we invited the Army to participate in a forum with Dr. Reimer and Dr. Pang,” said Cory Harden of Sierra Club, Moku Loa Group, “but it appears it will be several months before the Army is prepared to back up its conclusions in a forum.”
Elsewhere, actions of both NRC and another agency involved with the PTA studies – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSCR) – have been criticized.
The NRC’s recent decisions to classify DU as Class A waste was called an “arbitrary and capricious mischaracterization” by the chair and a member of a Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, who added that “requirements for safe and secure disposal of depleted uranium are much greater than what is required for Class A waste.”
The ATSCR was criticized for using “flawed methods to investigate depleted uranium exposures” in New York State and refusing “to acknowledge a link between a cancer cluster in Pennsylvania and environmental contamination despite persuasive evidence.”  The criticism came from witnesses testifying recently to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.
Earlier, the Subcommittee said ATSR’s “scientifically-flawed” report and “botched response resulted in tens of thousands of survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita remaining in travel trailers laden with high levels of formaldehyde,” and there was “a concerted and continuing effort by the agency’s leadership to both mask their own involvement … and to push the blame … down the line.”
“We urge the public to watch for the MRC meeting dates,” said Harden, “then show up and insist that recommendations from Dr. Reimer and Dr. Pang be written into the Army DU license.”


Copy of Sierra Club Press Release
by Cory Harden

Up to 2000 depleted uranium (DU) spotting rounds may be present at Pohakuloa Training Area though the Army reports only 714 spotting rounds statewide and there may be no cleanup, reports an environmental consultant.  The environmental consultant, Peter Strauss of San Francisco, reviewed Army studies of DU at Pohakuloa for Sierra Club€™s Hawai`i Island Group.  Strauss€™ resume states that he has done Technical Assistance Grants for the Enviromental Protection Agency, technical review for the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, and environmental assessment of military bases.

The spotting rounds are part of the Davy Crockett weapons system used in Hawai`i in the 1960s.  Each spotting round contained about seven ounces of DU alloy.  The DU was first discovered at Schofield Barracks on O`ahu in 2005, after years of Army denials of DU use in Hawai`i.  Hawai`i County Council recently passed a resolution calling for a halt to practice bombing, live-fire, and other actions that generate dust at Pohakuloa until the DU is cleaned up.

Strauss estimated the number 2000 based on two Army estimates: up to 400 pistons at Pohakuloa from the Davy Crockett, and up to 5 spotting rounds per piston.
The Army estimated the number 714 based on fifty-year-old shipping documents, says Strauss.  The documents were found by an archive search which Strauss says may have been more difficult than anticipated, because the Davy Crockett was classified.  Strauss quotes an Interstate Technology Regulatory Council statement that many initial historical reviews . . . may not have identified all potential munitions sites or hazards.
The Army is not likely to remediate Pohakuloa unless there were a hazard, Strauss reports from a conversation with Greg Komb, Army Radiation Health and Safety Specialist.  Strauss says he asked if 2000 spotting rounds would be considered a hazard, but Komb did not respond.

Strauss says, There is little reliable information about the location of DU in suspected spotting round areas at Pohakuloa. Army studies of the Pohakuloa DU are still underway, but Strauss cautions that detection [of DU] is very difficult and hazard assessment . . . does not have strong regulatory guidance.

The health effects of DU, and the risks posed by DU at Pohakuloa, are both controversial. DU is radioactive and is also a toxic heavy metal, and can impact health if inhaled or ingested.  Strauss says it’s unlikely small particles of DU would be inhaled unless the person was in the immediate vicinity, but adds this could change if the land goes out of military use.  Strauss says it is unlikely DU is entering groundwater, but recommends clearing as much DU as can easily and safely be retrieved and conducting long-term monitoring of air, soil and groundwater.

The Army continues actions that could disperse DU at Pohakuloa, though they aren€™t sure exactly how much DU is up there, or exactly where it is, said Cory Harden of Sierra Club.  She added, More Army DU studies for Pohakuloa will be released in the near future the public should scrutinize them closely and insist on long-term monitoring of air, soil and groundwater.


by Cory Harden

Excerpts from Sierra Club testimony in support of Hawai`i County Council Resolution 639-08, urging the United States military to address the hazards of Depleted Uranium (DU) at Pohakuloa, May 7, 2008:

Pohakuloa is one of the most important places in Hawaiian tradition and history.  {Stryker EIS}  Pohakuloa is also home to threatened and endangered species, some found only in Hawai`i.

Pohakuloa is not a disposal facility for radioactive and chemical waste.
The DU should be removed and taken to such a facility.  I don’t know of any organization, other than the military, that is allowed to leave explosive, toxic and radioactive materials lying out in the open for decades.  It took only forty years to forget the DU. If it’s not removed, it will be forgotten again sometime in the next four-and-a-half billion years €“ the half-life of DU.

And this should be a wake-up call that Pohakuloa may be contaminated with other forgotten dangers.  The Army should do a thorough assessment, including a search of classified records, for other sources of dangerous DU and radioactivity.

It appears the Army doesn’t know what’s on their ranges.  They didn’t know about the Davy Crockett weapons system.  They don’t know for sure where all the spotting rounds are.  Incomplete records point only to likely areas.

The Army didn’t seem to know there was old ordnance at Schofield that should be destroyed.  It was found during the search for DU.

The Army didn’t seem to know the DU was fine particulate matter.  As you know, chunks of DU are not dangerous, but minute, inhalable particles are very dangerous.  At first the Army said the DU was in the form of large metal fragments . . . flecks and grains and large particle sizes.  They said the large size prevented migration, including by air.  But later they said the DU was fine particulate.

This dangerous, airborne DU may go undetected because the Army may be doing the wrong kind of air testing.  But I can’t tell, because in six months of repeated requests from Sierra Club, they have not sent details about their air testing methods.
Please strengthen and pass this resolution.  Mahalo.


by Cory Harden
Army briefings on depleted uranium (DU) findings at Pohakuloa are set for mid-November in West Hawai`i, and mid-December (dates to be announced) in East Hawai`i. Questions we hope they will answer: 1) Did any DU particles on the ground become airborne and blow off-base on October 23, 2007, when several 2,000-pound bombs were dropped on Pohakuloa by a B-2? 2) Some types of cluster bombs contain DU. Pohakuloa has large areas with spent cluster bonds. Do any contain DU? 3) Why did the Army deny use of DU in Hawai`i for years? 4) Why did they not publicize the 2005 discovery at Schofield until after citizen groups did so? 714 Davy Crocketts were shipped to O`ahu in the 1960s. The 2005 Schofield DU was in spotting rounds for the Davy Crockets. How many Davy Crocketts and spotting rounds are still unaccounted for? For more info contact Cory Harden ( or (968-8965).


By Cory Harden

There should be no surprises on the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) decision for the 23,000- acre Pohakuloa expansion, since the Army makes the judgment on its own EIS. The final EIS comes out in April or May, and the decision will be made shortly thereafter.
But there are other surprises. Comanche helicopters and 155-mm howitzers have been added to the Stryker Brigade plans – too late to be added to the draft EIS. So the impacts are unknown. And two-thirds of the soldiers who were going to use the 23,000 acres for training will be gone by early summer. Eight thousand soldiers are being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving fewer than 4,500 solders at Schofield Barracks. The Army says it is looking at the situation. Then there is the EIS for the Saddle Road realignment, which fails to take into account any expansion of Pohakuloa.

And there are the life-threatening surprises the Army has left us – unexploded military ordnance littering the 50-plus military sites on our island, which the Army says will take centuries to clean up. County Councilman Bob Jacobson is dealing with this by drafting an “Ordnance Ordinance,” requiring full disclosure of locations of unexploded ordnance. Please support Bob’s ordinance. And please support a legal challenge by identifying how the final EIS fails to address concerns raised in comments on the draft EIS and contacting Jeff Mikulina with your findings.

There are already grounds for a legal challenge: barring of public participation through arrests and other means; “done deal” actions; unethical business/government linkages; and incomplete information in the EIS. A challenge could lead to new interpretations of the National Environmental Policy Act and increased public scrutiny of Army expansion plans