Public deserves to be heard on West Loch ordnance facility

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | Island Voices

Column: Public deserves to be heard on West Loch ordnance facility

  • Jim Albertini

    Jim Albertin


I urge at least a one-month extension (from Sept. 8 until Oct. 8) for public comments on the draft environmental assessment (EA) for the U.S. Army West Loch Ordnance Facilities at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Given COVID-19 restrictions and the fact there have been no public hearings or meetings to discuss this matter, there needs to be more time for the community to respond to this potentially dangerous munitions proposal.

For background: I trust many are unaware that in the late 1970s the Navy was planning to build a major nuclear weapons storage and maintenance facility at West Loch, and similar to today, was NOT planning to do a full environmental impact statement (EIS). Only an EA — and of course, the Navy “would neither confirm nor deny” the presence of nuclear weapons.

The Navy was planning to close the Waikele nuclear weapons storage depot in Central Oahu’s Kipapa Gulch due to encroaching urban development. I and others did a lot of research about security requirements for nuclear weapons storage areas — specific signage, double fencing, lighting, etc. We even photographed (from public accessible areas) nuclear weapons being transported via helicopter from Waikele to West Loch — the specific containers distinctive for nuclear weapons.

A lot of this info is in the book, “The Dark Side of Paradise — Hawaii in a Nuclear World,” I co-authored and is in Hawaii libraries. Long story short: Catholic Action of Hawaii, which I coordinated, filed a federal lawsuit to require an EIS. The case was dismissed at the federal court level, but we won at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled the military could do a hypothetical EIS about the possibilities of accidents, sabotage, terrorist attacks, air crashes into the storage site, etc., to get around the “neither confirm nor deny” policy. The military appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that military national security nuclear weapons secrecy trumps all. No need to do even a hypothetical EIS about the dangers of nuclear weapons being stored in Hawaii.

The result: 48 nuclear weapons storage bunkers plus nuclear weapon maintenance buildings were built at West Loch.

Have times changed or remained the same? Do people have a right to know about the dangers of military weapons stored in our backyards?

We all need to be reminded of the second Pearl Harbor event, at West Loch in May of 1944 — Hawaii’s second-greatest disaster. An accidental explosion of munitions killed and wounded more than 500 at West Loch. Today the area around West Loch has seen major civilian growth and population build-up — Pearl City, Waipahu, Ewa, Ewa Beach, Kapolei, etc.

The munitions depot at West Loch has gone through multiple expansions since WWII. The power of the munitions has also increased tremendously. Today both the Army and Navy are planning munition depot expansion there: The Army is planning 35 storage magazines and a range of support structures covering over 50 acres; the Navy is planning 24 new box magazines for storage. Both say “no significant impact.” It’s one expansion after another, each with “no significant impact.”

I thought in a democracy that ultimate power rests with the people. A government of, by and for the people. Yet if citizens are kept in the dark about matters for their own defense, who is really wielding ultimate power? Are we really being defended or endangered by these weapons of war in our backyards? Don’t we have a right to be better informed on these matters, ask questions in public hearings, and have a voice in the decision making process? Shouldn’t a comprehensive EIS be done on all the West Loch munitions and how this might impact the lives of people who live in the surrounding area?


Jim Albertini is founder of the Malu ‘Aina Center for Nonviolent Education & Action in Kurtistown (