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thedrifter
08-19-07, 09:12 AM
Posted on: Sunday, August 19, 2007

Marines' training 'city' at Bellows angers some

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

WAIMANALO — Residents are angry and disappointed over a decision by U.S. Marines in Hawai'i to build a new urban warfare training facility in the area without notifying the community first.

The decision to proceed with the $3 million "city" built out of nearly 150 shipping containers on old runways at Bellows Air Force Station left the community feeling "ambushed" and "disrespected," community leaders said last week.

"It's not like we don't have sympathy for the training of Marines, but we were dumbfounded that they didn't bother to tell us what was happening first," said Andrew Jamila, a member of the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board.

Others were even more pointed in their criticism.

"It hurts when you have to find out about something like this by reading about it in newspaper," said Kawika Eckart, a Waimanalo lifeguard. "This is something they should have told us about months ago because we have lots of questions. How is this going to benefit the community? How is it going to impact us in traffic? Our ocean use?"

Maj. Chris Perrine, director of public affairs for Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said the Marines did tell the community about plans for a larger training facility in 2003, but had failed to keep them informed as work on a scaled-down project began earlier this year.

"This was an oversight on my part due to a lack of communication with another department," Perrine said. "I fully understand why residents are upset and have apologized to the board and the residents," he said.

Officials at the base had earlier said that because the new training facility was being built out of containers on already paved and developed military land, they didn't believe that they had to report the project to city and state officials. The training center, consisting of 85 buildings and four villages made out of about 145 shipping containers of varying sizes, will be used to give a first-hand, training experience in urban warfare, officials said.

Despite the apology from the Marines, several Waimanalo residents said the lack of notification will leave a lingering feeling of distrust in the community. "It's like they hit us with a covert operation," said Neighborhood Board member Mabel Spencer. "Nobody in the community or the government knew this was coming. They knew there would be opposition in the community to this and still went forward without telling anyone. How sad is that? It's going to call into question all the things they want to do here in the future."

Perrine said the Marines would work hard to regain the community's trust.

"I will make every effort to ensure timely and open communication in the future," he said.

Reach Mike Leidemann at mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Ellie