Comments sought on proposed PMRF runway

U.S. Air Force officials are seeking public comment on a proposal to build a new runway at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, near Kekaha.

A draft environmental assessment (EA) was published early this month, and public comments are being accepted regarding the EA through the end of July, according to an Air Force spokesman.

The runway would be for training flight crews aboard Air Force C-17 cargo jets, with a new runway proposed to be built either at PMRF or Kaneohe Marine Corps base on Oahu, said Lt. Christopher Anderson, of Hickam Air Force Base’s public affairs office.

If there are no public comments needing to be addressed by Air Force personnel, a final EA and finding of no significant environmental impact on several alternatives offered in the EA could be published as early as August or September this year, he said.

On Kauai, the only public copy of the draft EA is at Waimea Public Library.

Public scoping meetings, to determine types of information to be covered and questions answered about the proposal, were held on Oahu and Kauai earlier this year.

The new runway would provide a place for crews to practice simulated combat landings and takeoffs. The existing runways at both PMRF and Kaneohe can’t accommodate the huge jets.

The draft EA details plans to build a new runway either at PMRF or Kaneohe.

The C-17 jets are designed for delivery of troops, equipment and supplies in combat situations, and delivery of humanitarian aid in non-combat conditions.

Crews require runways of 3,500 to 5,000 feet in length to practice simulated, short-distance, combat landings. PMRF’s existing runway is 6,000 feet long, but not strong enough to accommodate the four-jet cargo plane.

Air Force officials prefer the PMRF site to Kaneohe, as using the Oahu site would mean the jets would fly over homes on approaches and departures, and would not at PMRF’s remote location.

The environmental assessment indicates there would be 60 takeoffs and landings a month at whichever new runway is built.

Boeing is under Air Force contract to build and deliver 120 of the C-17 jets through next year, and the Air Force plan is to station eight of them at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu.

The jets aren’t scheduled to arrive in Hawaii until late 2006.

Hickam pilots share runway space with commercial jets and smaller planes at Honolulu International Airport, so disrupting operations at one of the world’s busiest airports in order to strengthen an existing runway or build a new one is not really feasible, an Air Force spokesman said.

Some $3.4 billion will be spent next year on 15 of these aircraft designed for carrying large combat equipment and troops or humanitarian aid across international distances directly to small airfields anywhere in the world, according to Boeing’s Web site. Some Kauai residents attending environmental assessment scoping meetings on Kauai and Oahu expressed concerns that if the runway is built at Barking Sands, aircraft noise could become a problem, access to surfing beaches could be cut, and the military jets would detract from the island’s natural beauty and serenity.

Col. Raymond Torres, commander of the 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam Air Force Base, said the C-17s would have engines quieter than those on Aloha and Hawaiian airlines jets that fly into Lihue Airport in far greater numbers every day.

Torres said he is not sure how beach and surfing access at Barking Sands would be affected by the plan.

“What you’re going to likely see it do, if you see it at all, or hear it at all, is you’ll see it come in, do a landing stop, and probably a few minutes later take back off,” he said.

Bringing C-17s to Hawaii is seen as key to providing airlift support for a planned Army brigade of 300 Stryker armored vehicles, and would give Hickam a capability it does not now have for military missions and disaster relief.

Kauai native Eric K. Shinseki, recently retired U.S. Army chief of staff, pushed for the Stryker vehicle, seen as faster and more agile than tanks, as the Army’s attack and transport vehicle of the future.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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