Hawaii - A Native Hawaiian advocacy group is calling for the state to cancel the Maui Space Surveillance System’s lease when it expires in 2031, following a mechanical issue that released 700 gallons of diesel fuel at the summit of Haleakala earlier this week. The incident, which comes in the wake of fuel spills at military facilities on other islands in the past two years, has reignited the longstanding debate over the military’s use of land and the location of defense and research facilities on the summit of mountaintops that many Native Hawaiians consider sacred. “Kanaka Maoli have consistently protested the construction of these telescopes on sacred Haleakala,” the organization Kako’o Haleakala said in a statement on Friday afternoon. “This negligence, along with similar incidents concerning toxic chemical contamination at Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, O’ahu, and Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawai’i Island, shows the incompetence of the United States Department of Defense to protect the most sacred sites of our wao Akua.”
As a retired U.S. Army colonel with 29 years of military service, I am very disappointed at the military’s continued lack of transparency on the 2021 jet fuel spills at Red Hill — and now, the lack of sensitivity on the recent spill of 1,300 gallons of a toxic firefighting foam. The AFFF (aqueous film forming foam) apparently billowed up inside an entrance tunnel of the underground jet fuel storage complex, and the foam tide flowed over 100 meters along and into the ground outside of the tunnel and down the hill. Just as with the Navy initially stating there was no video of the 19,000 gallons of jet fuel spewing jet-fuel spill. There are many photos of the release of AFFF/PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as “forever for 34 hours in November 2021 and then having to admit there was a video when it was released by a whistleblower, causing public outrage, the holding back from the public of the video of the 1,300 gallons of AFFF is going to cause even more outrage.
Puʻuloa, Hawaiʻi – Hundreds of people took to the streets today in a “Walk for Wai,” marching from Keʻehi Lagoon Beach Park to the local Navy Facilities Engineering Systems Command Headquarters, in support of the Honolulu Board of Water Supply (HBWS). For years, the HBWS had requested transparency, accountability and immediate action to prevent any further contamination of the island of Oʻahu’s EPA Region IX Sole-Source Aquifer from the U.S. Navy’s WWII-era Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. In a live press conference responding to the November 29, 2022 spill of 1,300 gallons of extremely toxic aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) concentrate at the facility, the HBWS’ Chief Engineer Ernest Lau broke down in tears – and declared that the agency’s requests had now become demands.
Puʻuloa, Hawaiʻi – On the anniversary of the 19,000 gallon fuel spill that led to the poisoning of Oʻahu's sole source aquifer and thousands of families, water protectors from across the island presented an "eviction notice" to Navy leaders for numerous Navy and Department of Defense actions that have continually threatened and harmed the lands, waters, and people of of Hawaiʻi - including the Navy’s ongoing refusal to properly address the existential threat posed by the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. "We aren't dumb. We aren't sheep. We know when we are just being fed lines by military officials in the hopes of keeping us quiet. We let them do that to us for too long, and look at what we've got. Those days are over, maybe forever," stated Kainoa Azama, of the Oʻahu Water Protectors.
You come home from work one day to your many generations’ family property where you have lived all of your life and find that a team is removing your belongings to the front lawn. And when you indignantly demand to know what is going on, two policemen and the county sheriff advise you that the new owner is taking possession. You protest adamantly that you never sold the property to anyone; this is your home! The sheriff then shows you a folder with a deed for the property that indicates that you had signed a power of attorney to another person, one you know but never trusted, and that, under its terms, he had the right to convey your property, and had done so to the “new owner.” You are then, of course, astounded, proclaiming loudly that you have never signed such a power of attorney, and that any claim to have done so was fraudulent, and the purported signature is a forgery.
Many military and civilian families living on military bases around Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i have been outspoken that they felt ill before the November 2021 massive Red Hill jet fuel leak…and they were right! Recently released data shows that their water was contaminated by jet fuel in the summer of 2021 and they were feeling effects of poisoning long before November 2021. Interviews with ten families published in an extensive December 21, 2021 Washington Post article “Military families say they were ill months before jet-fuel leak brought scrutiny to Pearl Harbor’s tap water,” record that family members shared physicians’ notes, emails and visual records documenting symptoms that, in some cases, dated back to late spring, 2021.
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.
Honolulu - Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be in Hawaii through the week and plans to meet Rear Admiral John Wade, the commander in charge of defueling the Red Hill underground fuel tanks. So far, there are no scheduled plans to meet with families. Families who were sickened by the spill are demanding immediate help. The protest over Red Hill goes beyond defueling the tanks. Ten months after the spills, families who were sickened after drinking fuel-contaminated water say their physical and neurological illnesses aren’t going away. “Real people are experiencing real symptoms,” said Army Major Amanda Feindt during a protest last week in the nation’s capital. Ariana Wyatt fears for her daughter, Indy. “I would love to tell you sheʻs doing a lot better, but thatʻs just not the truth,” said Wyatt.
Kauai, Hawaii - Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff arrived on Kauai for a vacation away from bustle of Washington. As their motorcade pulled up near the Kalihiwai Ridge home where the second couple are staying, they were met with people holding 'Shut Down Red Hill' signs. Some members of the Oahu Water Protectors made the trip to Kauai to meet the motorcade. While they said 'aloha' to welcome the Vice President on her trip, they also wanted to use the opportunity to put the issue on her radar. "To stand here and know that she's just 100 feet away from us I think it's important because we can't fly to DC but DC is here, so it's an opportunity for us to send a message to DC ," says Healani Sonoda-Pale.
The state of Hawaii has set up a new way to manage the mountain Maunakea, the summit of which is home to many world-class astronomical observatories. A law signed by Hawaii’s governor on 7 July removes the University of Hawaii from its role as the main authority overseeing the land on which the telescopes sit, and gives that responsibility to a newly established group with much broader representation of the community, including Native Hawaiians. Many hope that the shift will mark a path forwards for astronomy in Hawaii, after a years-long impasse over the future of telescopes on Maunakea. Since 2015, some Native Hawaiians have intermittently blocked the road to the summit, primarily to prevent the start of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) — a next-generation observatory that will have a huge light-gathering mirror to make astronomical discoveries.
Ten days ago, late on a Friday afternoon, May 27, 2022, the contractor’s assessment of the repairs needed in the US Navy’s Red Hill Jet Fuel Storage Area was delivered to the Hawai’i Department of Health. The redacted report made available to the public shed light on how badly managed and maintained the massive 80-year-old, 20 storage tank, 250 million gallon facility located a mere 100 feet above Honolulu’s water supply, had become. In fact, according to the report, the November 2021 jet fuel leak that went into Pearl Harbor’s residential Red Hill drinking water well was just one of many dangerous time bombs in the facility waiting to happen. The $1.45 million Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Inc. contracted report underscores that there were many “near misses” with potentially even greater disasters than the May and November 2021 leaks/spills from the large jet fuel tank system.
Honolulu, Hawai’i – The Hawai’i State Legislature has adopted a resolution calling for the State of Hawai’i and all counties to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Hawai’i was the first US state to make a Climate Emergency Declaration and pass legislation to implement portions of the Paris Climate Agreement. Hawai’i may now become the first state and the first Pacific Island to join the call for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. The proposed Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty would provide an international mechanism to advance a fast and fair phase out of fossil fuel production in line with both the Paris Agreement and United National Sustainable Development Goals. Fossil fuels are by far the largest contributor to climate change.
It took the Department of Defense (DOD) 3 years to begin work on shutting down the tanks after the decision was made. The decision to close and remove the original 33 underground fuel storage tanks and construct six new above-ground tanks was made in 2018 but work did not begin to close down the facility until July 2021. Each of the six new, above ground tanks will be able to contain 5.2 million gallons of JP-5 carrier jet fuel or F-76 marine diesel fuel in 64-foot-tall, 140-foot-wide tanks constructed of welded steel columns with supported fixed cone roofs. Approximately 75 million gallons are stored at Manchester Fuel Depot now. At that rate, it would take eighteen+ years to defuel and close Red Hill, assuming it holds 180 million gallons of fuel.
On March 7, 2022 Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the defueling and closure of the 80-year-old leaking 250 million gallon jet fuel tanks at Red Hill on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i. The order came 95 days after a catastrophic 19,000-gallon leak of jet fuel into one of the drinking water wells operated by the U.S. Navy. The drinking water of over 93,000 persons was contaminated, including the water of many military and civilian families living on military bases. Hundreds went to emergency rooms for treatment of rashes, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. The military placed thousands of military families in hotels Waikiki resorts for over 3 months while civilians were left to find their own accommodations.
Total Congressional funding for all aspects of the Navy’s Red Hill water contamination debacle is now over $1.1 billion according to Hawai’i Congressional representative Ed Case and billions more are needed to complete clean-up, defueling and closing of the massive leaking Red Hill jet fuel storage facility. In a news release on March 9, 2022, Rep. Case said, “These funds ($700 million) are in addition to the $403 million in emergency funding we obtained in another bill we passed just weeks ago, bringing Congress’ total funding for all aspects of Red Hill in the current fiscal year alone to over $1.1 billion. But billions more will be required to complete all aspects of the cleanup, stabilization, defueling and closing of Red Hill and the relocation of its fuel and build fuel storage capacity elsewhere.”