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Military May Escalate Presence on Molokai

As the U.S. Marine Corps prepares to draft an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the use of new aircraft during training exercises, officials say Molokai could see a slight increase in military activity.

If the proposal is approved, the Marine Corps would introduce two new types of aircraft – the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor and H-1 Cobra and Huey attack helicopters – to their training and readiness operations. Maj. Alan Crouch, spokesperson for Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, said Molokai is primarily being looked at as a re-fueling location.

“While in transit to Big Island, they might need to re-fuel on Molokai,” said Crouch, who was on-island last week for a lightly-attended open house. “That’s the only reason they’d come into the airfield.”

Training exercises, which are currently conducted near the Kalaupapa peninsula at night, would remain unaltered. Pilot James Sibley said they would continue with their night training about once a week, but assured no training would take place topside.

“Much of the training is done in simulators,” Crouch added. “It’s important they get to apply what they learn virtually in actual situations.”

In order to accommodate the new choppers, “minimal” construction would be required, such as landing zone improvements. Capt. Derek George, director of the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department, said while some horizontal modifications could be made, he doesn’t expect any vertical structures to be built on or near the Ho`olehua airport.

“I could see needing something like a concrete landing pad,” he added.

George said the EIS will identify environmental ramifications, as well as impact on communities, cultural resources, air quality and noise, among others.

Also being considered, he said, would be a no-action alternative. This means Molokai could be taken off the map altogether if there is substantial public opposition, and if the EIS shows negative impact.

“We know there is a lot of cultural and archeological significance here,” George noted. “It’s just [as] important as air and water quality, and we will be sensitive to that.”

Molokai Plans

The Molokai Training Support Facility, located on a 12-acre parcel of land across from the airport owned by the military, is also being examined as a potential site to develop on. It is currently not in use.

Sibley said this land could be used as a re-fueling point for the H-1 choppers. However, seeing as they are in the early stages, Sibley said they are uncertain if the property would be utilized for this purpose.

“If we did use it, it could help stimulate Molokai’s economy because we would be buying gas from the airport,” he said.

During the public scoping period, other islands that have sounded off on the plan brought up concerns over noise. But the new H-1 helicopters, Sibley said, are much quieter than the old ones because the propellers have four blades instead of two.

Crouch added that while it would be quieter, the choppers would be frequenting Molokai roughly once or twice a day, three times a week.

“There could be a stretch of a couple days with no traffic at all,” he said.

The public has until Sept. 7 to submit written comment on the EIS. There will be another 45-day public scoping period once the draft EIS is completed and released.

Comments can be addressed to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, Attn: EV21, MV-22/H-1 EIS Project Manager, 258 Makalapa Drive, Suite 100, Pearl Harbor, HI 96860-3134. 

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