The 25th Army Combat Aviation Brigade and Hawaii Army National Guard want to construct four aviation landing zones on Mauna Loa’s northern slope, a location deemed ideal for military helicopter pilots to train on varied terrain, under diverse conditions and at multiple altitudes.
These additional landing zones are needed “to ready military aviation units to successfully complete their missions,” as well as meet proficiency requirements, including conducting High-Altitude Mountainous Environmental Training, or HAMET, at altitudes 6,000 feet and above, according to a recent environmental assessment.
“Understanding and being proficient in austere environments must be learned, maintained and refreshed, and continually taught to incoming pilots to ensure the military maintains its ability and responsibility to respond successfully on behalf of the U.S. government to defend and protect its people, interests and responsibilities at home and around the world,” the document stated.
The proposed landing zones would differ in size, be about 1.2 to 1.7 miles apart, located at elevations from 8,520 to 8,800 feet, and one would have a 15-foot-tall pinnacle feature. All would occur within the boundaries of Pohakuloa Training Area, the military’s largest training maneuver area in the Pacific, which is in the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The military is also seeking to build a single-lane access trail and a trail linking the landing zones.
“The primary purpose of the trails under the proposed action would only be to provide a means to transport heavy equipment to construct the landing zones,” the EA stated. “There are no additional plans or foreseeable uses for the access or linking trails that result from the proposed action.”
An EA for the landing zones was released Monday, with a draft finding of no significant impact. This means the military, based on the information analyzed, believes there will be no direct, indirect or cumulative adverse impacts on the natural or human environment.
“The action being proposed does not involve the acquisition of additional land, training outside of the current installation boundary, or live-fire exercises conducted outside the approved/existing PTA impact area,” the EA stated. “Additionally, no increase in training flights is being proposed under the proposed action or action alternatives. It is estimated that approximately 10 percent of current training flights occurring at PTA would use the new landing zones once they are constructed.”
There would be an estimated maximum of 420 flights a year and a maximum of 20 flights per day on the proposed landing zones. The flights would originate at Bradshaw Army Airfield and follow a flight path within PTA’s airspace and perimeter. Multiple helicopters could be in the air and conducting maneuvers simultaneously. However, pilots would have to maintain a distance of at least 328 feet from each other. The types of helicopters using the landing zones are AH-64 Class Apache, UH-60 Class Black Hawk, CH-47 Class Chinook, OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and UH-72A Series Lakota.
If the project moves forward, PTA’s landing zone training areas would increase from 31 to 35. The Combat Aviation Brigade now uses PTA for about 4,5000 aviation training hours annually.
The estimated cost of constructing the trails and landing zones will be less than $650,000. Construction will take up to 40 days to complete and “would result in a slight increase in short-term, construction-related jobs,” the EA stated.
While there are no cultural resources directly within the landing zones, there are three potential cultural sites on the northern portion of the proposed single-lane access trail, all of which can be avoided during construction activities, according to a survey conducted in February and March.
When it comes to noise, “helicopter use of the proposed landing zones may annoy Mauna Loa Forest Reserve recreational users in the immediate vicinity. Cultural practitioners in areas near PTA may also be annoyed or distracted depending where they are, but the noise should not obstruct or curtail their activities.”
Besides best management practices, the military plans to conduct most flights during the day to allow birds to roost at night, mark locations for plant species, identify potential nesting habitat prior to construction activities, observe construction operations to avoid any potential incidental deaths, and temporarily discontinue the use of landing zones when there’s nesting birds observed within 100 meters of the area.
“Impacts to sensitive species from construction activities are anticipated to be low because of the lack of habitat and the implementation of measures to mitigate potential habitat loss and species injury/death,” the EA stated. “Near the landing zones, the potential impact between helicopters and sensitive species is low because of the locations of known bird and bat habitat, the lack of potential habitat near the landing zones, established flight procedures, mitigation to prevent collisions. The overall potential impacts from noise to sensitive species are anticipated to be low, because species would not be attracted to noise and would vacate area until the noise subsides, the duration of noise events will be less than 10 minutes.”
The public has through Jan. 18 to comment on the EA, which is available online at the state Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Quality Control website, oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov, or the U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii’s National Environmental Policy Act program website, garrison.hawaii.army.mil/NEPA/NEPA.htm.
Hard copies of the EA are also available for review at the Kailua-Kona Public Library, Thelma Parker Memorial Public and School Library in Waimea and Hilo Public Library.
Comments should be sent to Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division (IMHW-PWE), Attn: Dale Kanehisa, 948 Santos Dumont Ave.,, Building 105, Wheeler Army Airfield, Schofield Barracks, 96857-5013.
For more information, contact Kanehisa at 656-5670 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.