Dec 8–PBS News Hour 8 min report on Red Hill(w/interview with Ernie Lau); Empire Files with Abby Martin & Mike Prysner with interview with Wayne Tanaka-3 reports; Star Advertiser

Excellent 8 min report on national PBS News Hour: 

Navy’s water contamination flub in Hawaii follows 8 years of warning signs

Empire Files video & podcast with Abby Martin and Mike Prysner  
Sierra Club Hawaii Executive Director Wayne Tanaka was interviewed by Empire files yesterday and is on today’s December 8 podcast.
December 7 Podcast “Red Alert at Red Hill  1hr1 8 min
December 7 Empire Files  9 min Video (with 31,000 views in 24 hours)
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Navy to contest state’s order


The DOH wants the military branch to clean up the contaminated drinking water and drain its fuel tanks

Star Advertiser

December 8, 2021 By Sophie Cocke

The U.S. Navy told the Hawaii Department of Health on Tuesday that it intends to contest its emergency order demanding that the Navy suspend operations at its Red Hill fuel farm and drain its massive underground fuel tanks.

The administrative order, announced by DOH during a news conference Monday, also requires the Navy to clean up the petroleum-contaminated drinking water in its Red Hill shaft and fix any deficiencies at its Red Hill fuel facility.

DOH said the Navy needs to satisfy the requirements before seeking permission from the state to resume operations at the fuel facility.

But an attorney for the Navy on Tuesday sent a letter to DOH saying Rear Adm. Timothy Kott, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, intends to contest the order.

A hearing was set for 1 p.m Tuesday during which a hearings officer would make the order “final and enforceable,” according to the order.

However, the hearing was postponed after the Navy requested a continuance.

“The Department of Health and Navy are negotiating the terms of a continuance and we will provide an update when one is available,” said Kaitlin Arita-Chang, a DOH spokeswoman, in a statement.

Arita-Chang didn’t respond to a question about what terms are being negotiated. She said a new hearing date had not been agreed upon.

The Navy didn’t respond to a question about whether it had specific concerns about the order.

Capt. J. Dorsey, a spokesman for the secretary of the Navy, said the order “is currently under legal review.”


The order was issued in response to petroleum contamination in the Navy’s drinking water system, which serves about 93,000 people. Since Nov. 28, hundreds of military families, and several schools, have complained of a fuel-like smell, abnormal taste or sheen in their tap water. Residents also have reported nausea, diarrhea, skin rashes and headaches, symptoms that health officials say are consistent with exposure to petroleum contamination.

The investigation into the cause of the water contamination is ongoing. But DOH said Monday that it is looking at fuel releases at the Red Hill facility that occurred on May 6 and Nov. 20. The fuel tanks and pipeline system are in close proximity to the Navy’s Red Hill shaft, which the Navy has confirmed as the source of the petroleum contamination.

The Navy’s request for a contested case on the order could spur years of legal wrangling.

David Kimo Frankel, an attorney for the Hawaii Sierra Club, which has fought the Navy for years over its Red Hill fuel tanks, said that generally states have no authority to tell the federal government, including the military, what to do. But he said there are exceptions. Frankel said when Congress enacted the underground storage tank law, it required that all federal agencies be subject to state requirements relating to those tanks and required federal agencies to comply with administrative orders issued by state officials.

But the Navy has argued for years that its Red Hill fuel facility is critical to national security and has not always complied with the state’s regulatory demands.

The facility provides fuel for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and is part of the “nation’s critical infrastructure — vital to national security, safety and defense,” Navy officials told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in October, adding that “Red Hill is more vital today than ever.” The Navy currently has paused its Red Hill fueling operations, but it’s not clear how long military officials think they can continue the suspension before compromising national security. Top Navy officials also indicated this week that they intend to clean up the contamination in the Red Hill shaft.

A growing number of community leaders and public officials have thrown their support behind the DOH’s emergency order, some going further to say that the Navy needs to shut down the facility permanently and as quickly as possible.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs issued a statement Tuesday in support of DOH’s emergency order, calling the Navy’s lack of transparency “shocking.”

“Trust is earned and the Navy has not demonstrated that it can be entrusted with the stewardship of our most precious resource, clean water,” said OHA board Chairwoman Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey in a statement. “Indeed, the Navy’s lack of transparency with an issue this critical to Hawai‘i nei has simply been shocking.”


Navy’s fuel tanks will have to move



The Navy has spent the last few days making its way through five stages of confusion: Denial of any serious problem with its underground fuel farm; deflection of concerns by military housing residents over tainted tap water; self-deprecation (oops, we responded badly); defusing, by announcing it had paused using the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

The final stage is still to come: acceptance — which should lead to decommissioning those 20 massive fuel tanks, poised just 100 feet above an aquifer that provides 75% of Oahu’s fresh water.

Collective trust in the Navy in this matter of fuel tanks, leaks and water quality, has run dry. The governor is fed up, too. So are state lawmakers and our congressional delegation.

This showdown has been in the making since a 27,000-gallon fuel leak in 2014, intensifying in recent months with news of more leaks and the Navy downplaying damage. It all crested last week when military households and schools that use the Navy’s water system reported signs of petroleum contamination in the smell, appearance and taste of their tap water. Many in this area — part of Moanalua and lower Halawa — have taken ill with symptoms from rashes to diarrhea; some reported their pets had sickened or died.

We now know the Navy’s own water tests showed petroleum contamination as far back as July, but the state wasn’t notified until late last month. It also turned out the Navy stopped drawing fuel from the Red Hill tanks back on Nov. 27, a day before it received any complaints from water users.

Still, Navy officials at first glossed over those concerns. Capt. Erik Spitzer, commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, even told military housing residents that he and his staff were drinking the water and it was safe. A few days later, Spitzer apologized, saying he was “deeply remorseful” for his words.

On Sunday, Ige and Hawaii’s congressional delegation called for immediate suspension of operations at Red Hill; on Monday, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said he would consider the “request,” although the Navy had already stopped drawing from the tanks. The ping-ponging was dizzying.

Gov. David Ige then forced the issue, announcing on Monday an emergency order requiring the Navy to clean up the water, drain the underground tanks and determine how to operate safely going forward. The order gives the Navy 30 days to come up with a plan, working with an “independent third party.” No more of the Navy keeping this in-house. And the state has another weapon: It could deny the Navy’s pending request for a five-year permit to keep Red Hill in operation.

The Navy, unfortunately, countered on Tuesday that it is contesting the state emergency order. This, despite having acknowledged that water from its Red Hill shaft has been contaminated, though it hasn’t determined how. Keep in mind, we’re talking about a system serving about 93,000 users. Imagine if a fuel leak were to infiltrate the Southern Oahu Basal Aquifer — the source of water for hundreds of thousands of residents all over the island.

Meanwhile, the congressional delegation called for a Department of Defense investigation of whether the Navy is capable of safely operating at Red Hill. The majority members of the Hawaii House of Representatives went further, calling for outright decommissioning.

The Navy’s position has been that the facility, which has powered the ships and jets of Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam since World War II, is critical to national security and can be bolstered without moving it from beneath Red Hill. Decommissioning could cost as much as $10 billion and take decades.

To permanently shut down Red Hill will be immensely costly and complicated, but might be moderated if resources are committed now with closure as the aim; no half-measures. There is no other long-term solution. That aquifer is our water supply and it’s priceless.

Letters to the Editor December 8, 2021

Politicians took too long to address Red Hill tanks

Why did it take an actual pollution event to make Gov. David Ige, Mayor Rick Blangiardi and our congressional delegation respond seriously to the threat of the Navy’s fuel tanks, perched above Oahu’s treasured and unique source of drinking water?

As Board of Water Supply Manager Ernie Lau recently stated, his office has been expressing its concern for the situation since the big leak of 2014. Seven years. To no avail.

The business of the BWS is to deliver fresh water (some of the highest quality in the world, from an unmatched aquifer) to the people of this island. They are the experts, and have been at this for nearly 100 years. Why were the thousands of concerned Oahu citizens and Lau ignored by these politicians?

U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele now “demands answers” from the Navy. It’s not about answers, congressman, it’s about a single question: What took you so long?

Kevin O’Leary

Kalihi Valley

Navy must be forced to relocate fuel storage

After multiple leaks and spills, the Navy has finally contaminated the water for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam housing. Imagine how much worse it would be if the aquifer was contaminated. It seems to be a matter of when, not if. And especially since the Navy doesn’t seem willing to be forthcoming about the issues, it’s time for our legislators to force them to move the fuel storage to a location that doesn’t put the drinking water for 400,000 people at risk.

Shari Sprague

Manoa Valley


Ann Wright

Dissent: Voices of Conscience