Above photo: Makaio Villanueva, front left, and Nani Peterson, both of the Oahu Water Protectors, lead a pule during a gathering outside the Pearl Harbor National Memorial Visitor Center on Saturday. Star Advertiser.
Puʻuloa, Oʻahu – Environmental groups along with the Honolulu Board of Water Supply today commemorated the anniversary of a reported whistleblower revelation that Navy officials failed to disclose a months-long active fuel leak in Puʻuloa (Pearl Harbor).
Standing outside of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial Visitor Center, dressed in formal funeral attire and wearing black armbands, participants reflected on what they described as “one year of ʻimplausible deniability’” surrounding the Red Hill water crisis, and the impacts that a lack of transparency and truth has had on the people and island of Oʻahu, as well as on the legacies of Puʻuloa and Kapūkakī.
The group also unveiled petitions with hundreds of “wet” signatures from local residents demanding that the Navy provide medical support and alternative water sources for those still reporting health and water contamination issues; invest additional resources to ensure the defueling of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility within a matter of months, not years; and engage with the public to respond to community questions and concerns on a monthly basis.
Members of the Oʻahu Water Protectors also reiterated their demand that the U.S. Navy’s Joint Task Force Red Hill include civilian and Native Hawaiian membership and oversight.
On October 8 of last year, CivilBeat journalist Christina Jedra reported on a whistleblower revelation that Navy officials had not disclosed the existence of an “active leak” in evidentiary hearings over their underground storage tank permit application for the Red Hill Facility. Leaked internal e-mails indicated that while the evidentiary hearings were being conducted, Navy officials expressed “significant political concerns if this were to become an ʻactive’ leak,” noting that “activist organizations” would use it to advance an “anti-Red Hill narrative,” and that it would “undermine community and regulatory confidence” in their tank and pipeline leak detection systems.
During today’s event, Hawaiʻi Peace and Justice organizer Rebekah Garrison presented a “top ten” list of examples where Navy and Department of Defense officials had been caught providing wrong or misleading information over the last year.
These included claims:
• That officials had no indication that the Navy’s drinking water system had been contaminated, despite subsequent investigation reports and a video showing otherwise;
• That the Navy would comply with the state’s emergency order, before appealing the order to state and federal courts;
• That they had no knowledge of ongoing health concerns or water contamination issues, despite ample public testimony as well as widely available photographic and video evidence;
• That the safety and care of families were being prioritized, before multiple EPA investigation reports outlined longstanding and myriad failures by Navy officials to comply with both safe drinking water and underground storage tank regulations; and
• That the Navy was “committed to keeping the island’s ocean waters clean,” before a blistering Hawai‘i Department of Health investigation report identified nearly 1,000 Clean Water Act violations associated with its Pearl Harbor Wastewater Facility.
Speakers offered the following statements:
“All we’ve been given, all we have are words and verbal assurances, none of which have kept us safe. And when these words turn out to be untruths, wishful thinking, and lies – lives are upended, our island is placed at the brink of destruction, and our historical and living legacies are soiled,” observed Sierra Club of Hawai‘i director Wayne Tanaka. “We need true transparency, accountability, and demonstrated actions – and our demands today are the bare minimum steps toward these ends.”
“Our aquifer has never – in its thousands of years, faced the scale of contamination that it is experiencing today,” BWS Chief Engineer Ernie Lau lamented. “We now risk being the generation that witnesses its destruction with over 100 million gallons of fuel still stored 100 feet above it in the 80-year old Red Hill facility.”
“Like COVID-19, the threat is to all of us,” said Susan Gorman-Chang, of Faith Action for Community Equity. “But we know that the Native Hawaiian community will be cut deepest by the contamination of an ancestral source of life. And we know the burdens of dealing with a catastrophic contamination event will weigh heaviest on those with the least resources to adjust to a ʻnew normal’ of a poisoned water source.”
“We are still being impacted. People are still in fear, struggling with health symptoms, stuck in homes they cannot trust. When you can’t trust your own water in your own home – that in itself is an unacceptable trauma,” stated D. Momilani, an affected O‘ahu resident. “As a Native Hawaiian and a Coast Guard spouse, I implore the Navy to please, finally, do right by your people. Do right by the ‘āina, the wai that has hosted you for over a century.”
“The community’s demands are more than reasonable,” emphasized Nani Peterson, member of the Oʻahu Water Protectors, who presented the community petitions. “Clean up the mess you made in Kapūkakī, a marker for the sacred Leilono, and remove your existential threat to the sacred waiola of our island. Take care of the people you poisoned, who you are continuing to harm, to traumatize. And provide us with the truth, a truth that has been wrongfully denied us for far too long.”