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 Coloradoâ€”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.