Community members have expressed concerns about beach erosion and lead contamination.

The U.S. Marine Corps said on Monday that four short-distance firing ranges at its Pu’uloa Range Training Facility will be moved inland to address concerns about erosion and potential lead contamination.

Operational Range Clearance and Maintenance commenced for Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Pu’uloa Training Facility, Foxtrot Range, Feb. 23, 2023. The ORC serves to remove unexploded ordinance and range debris from the operational ranges and the mining of munitions from the impact berms on ranges. Routine clearance and maintenance ensure the safety and sustainability of Marine Corps ranges and training areas. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Samantha Sanchez)
Crews began work on Feb. 23 to begin moving the Marines’ Pu’uloa shooting ranges inland. (U.S. Marine Corps)

The Ewa Beach facility has been a source of community consternation since 2019 after the Marines announced plans to drive a sheet pile retaining wall 20 feet deep into the bedrock. Such seawalls act as a temporary shield for individual properties but contribute to erosion and represent a “death knell to our beaches,” a Hawaii coastal lands official said in 2019.

The sheet pile proposal, which received pushback from U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and Hawaii Sen. Mike Gabbard, is no longer being pursued, according to Lt. Mark McDonough, a Marine Corps spokesman.

The facility again attracted scrutiny last year after the Surfrider Foundation said it tested soil samples near Pu’uloa and detected lead. The environmental advocacy group expressed concern the contamination could migrate into the reef ecosystem and areas used by the public.

According to McDonough, preliminary testing done in coordination with the Department of Health did not detect high levels of lead on the beach. However, levels of lead above state safety limits were detected on the shooting range berms, and bullet fragments were found on the backside of the berm, DOH spokesman Shawn Hamamoto said in an email.

“Both samples were collected within the portion of the beach and firing range that are off-limits to the public,” Hamamoto said.

McDonough said the Marines are planning to do more rigorous lab testing later on.

The Marines are moving the facility to address both the erosion and the possibility that lead, even if it’s not present now, could become an issue in the future, he said.

On Feb. 23, the Marines took initial steps to relocate the Foxtrot Range, a short-distance pistol
range on the eastern side of the facility, approximately 40 meters mauka of its current
location. Plans are underway to do similar work at three adjacent ranges: Charlie, Delta and Echo.

“The in-land movement of the short distance ranges located at Pu’uloa is necessary for both facility
modernization and environmental stewardship,” Col. Speros Koumparakis, the commanding officer of
Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said in a statement.

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