Hawaii’s Water Protectors Lead Movement to Close Navy Fuel Site After Leak

Upwards of 100 water protectors ralliedOn December 10, 2010, outside the Hawaii State Capitol, Honolulu. Their worst fears had just come true. The U.S. Navy had kept decaying fuel storage tanks just 100 feet above a water aquifer that functioned as the main source of drinking water on the island of O’ahu. Those tanks recently leaked jet fuel into the aquifer, poisoning thousands of people and creating irreparable damage to O’ahu’s water supply.

Shelley Muneoka is a Kanaka Maoli member (Native Hawaiian) of the O’ahu Water ProtectorsSince 2014, a coalition consisting of community members and organizers have been warning about the possibility of a water leak. She spoke about the surge in attention that water protectors have recently received from the larger O’ahu community.

“On the one hand, [we’re] really feeling devastated that it’s come to this and really scared for what this means for the future of life on O’ahu,” Muneoka said. “On the other hand, [we’re]You have to dig deep in order to activate and motivate. All of a sudden, every day, tons of things are happening.”

Public demonstrations and community outreach throughout Honolulu are being led by the O’ahu Water Protectors. The coalition has been growing support around a demand to “Shut Down Red Hill,” referring to the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage FacilityThe official name for the underground tank complex is.

They have held two high-profile events so far and are currently engaging with the local community through mutual aid and teach-ins to boost local support for their request. They are also active on social media to raise public attention to the matter. Because the Navy has refused to answer questions and avoided accountability at every turn it seems, community support and attention from the general public are especially important. even fighting a state orderDec. 6.

Red Hill tanks were the first major leakage case. This is why concern arose in 2014. 27,000 gallons of fuel were leaked from one tank in January 2014. This led to a 20-year agreement among the Environmental Protection Agency and the Navy, Defense Logistics Agency and the Hawaii Department of Health to examine and make improvements to the facility.

According to the Sierra Club: Despite the agreement between different governmental organisations, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other departments responsible, have not followed up on the promise to hold the Navy accountable.

The Sierra Club launched a legal campaign to win some significant accountability gains due to the inaction of federal and state institutions. The Hawaii Department of Health was sued by the Sierra Club in 2017 over a policy that exempted Red Hill underground tank storage regulations. Prior to opposition, the Navy’s permit to operate the tanks was automatically renewed anytime it expired. The Sierra Club’s work forced the state to drop the practice of automatic renewal. The organization also uses its website. document and clearly conveyAll data and studies available on the environmental danger posed by Red Hill.

While the precedent for a major leak was established more than a decade ago the public did not support the demand to close Red Hill. Much of that hesitancy to question the Navy comes from the military’s large role in the Hawaiian economy and the concentration of service members and veterans who live on the island. The military industry is the second largest economic driverHawaii employing 101,500 people or 16.5 percent of state’s workforce.

In Honolulu Civil BeatEric Stinton writesThe military has managed to avoid major criticism by portraying any negative reaction towards it as an institution rather than condemning individual service members.

“Even mild critiques of the military are often met with patriotic outrage, as if a specific institutional criticism is no different than spitting in the face of your uncle who took a bullet for his country,” he explained. “Military culture is particularly effective at subsuming the identities of those who are in it, so it’s easy to understand why criticism of the military is often received as criticism of military members.”

Antiwar veteran and O’ahu resident Ann Wright, who has been active in the Shut Down Red Hill movement, says that the economic role of the military has kept the state government complacent with the Navy’s presence.

“Besides tourism, it’s Department of Defense money that runs the state, so all of our Congress people are the big pork barrel people getting military projects here,” Wright said. “So the state has gone along with it and has not really kept good investigations going and made sure permits are issued.”

Although the Navy has always tried to manipulate public sentiment and worked with state representatives to avoid accountability, it was unable not to avoid backlash following another leak from the Red Hill tank in recent months. The Navy is now facing a new type o opposition: the service members and military families that live on the Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam. After posing a threat to the average O’ahu resident, the tanks have now leaked so much that military families living in Hawaii have been poisoned and outrage is finally growing.

Near the end of November, military spouses who live in housing communities near the military base will be able to move out. began reporting that they could smell gasoline in their water. Family members also reported headaches, rashes, and diarrhea. At first, Navy spokespeople assured families that the water wasn’t dangerous. They could only keep this line up for so long.

“If it had been over at the part of town where I live, the Navy wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass about it,” Wright said. “But because it’s military families, and those military families have wives, there’s nothing worse than an angry military spouse. Having been in the military 29 years I know, when things go wrong on a military base and the wives get mad, all hell breaks loose.”

The Navy held onto its position despite growing outrage from military families a town hall on Dec. 6 where affected families voiced their sense of betrayal at the Navy’s negligence. “Why have you told us that the water was safe to drink, to bathe in while you waited for results that you already had?” one military spouse asked top local Navy officials. “I’m here to ask why you weren’t a wingman to protect my 13-month-old son … while I was giving him a sippy cup full of water from my faucet when he has been throwing up for days on end.”

Muneoka claimed that in the past, Native Hawaiian activists faced backlash whenever they criticized the military, but lately she has felt that the larger community’s feelings about the military are starting to change. Even elected officials, who have long failed to hold Navy accountable, are beginning to change their minds. starting to more publicly condemn and question the Navy’s actions.

“I think there’s a reckoning happening,” Muneoka said. “For the military families, their whole lives are premised on the belief in this system. For them I think there’s a lot of feeling of shock and betrayal. For Hawaiians, we are not surprised, sadly.”

The experience of Native Hawaiian leaders, who have spent the last few years leading the Shut Down Red Hill movement, adds to the momentum. a struggle in defense of the Mauna Kea mountain. The site was chosen to be a construction site for a $1.4 million observatory. Indigenous leaders began a movement to stop construction by blocking roads and taking over the land. Several thousand people occupied land to stop construction at its peak. These protests were successful. halt constructionIn January 2020, and since then, much of the opposition has moved to a legal arena.

Many of the Mauna Kea land-defenders are leading public demonstrations to shut down Red Hill. Along with the State Capitol, the O’ahu Water Protectors have made the headquarters of the U.S. Navy Pacific Command a center of demonstration. The early morning on Dec. 12, about 70 Native Hawaiians held a ceremonyAt the gate of command, a stone altar was built to honor the Hawaiian god of Water. The altar was designed to draw people to the problem of contamination. Both Muneoka and Wright explained that, while much of the ongoing activism is challenging the Navy’s desire to leave the fuel tanks in place, the military will likely only shut down Red Hill if they are ordered to do so from President Biden

“When the Secretary of the Navy says to the governor’s order that the tanks should be shut down and drained, ‘I consider it a request,’ that gives you the idea of what’s happening,” Wright said.

“So many people have been to Hawaii for their own recreation or vacation,” Muneoka said. “This is an opportunity for you to do something. Pressure on President Biden is essential. It seems so lofty and far-fetched. But the U.S. Navy command, which is everything, means that people can hide behind orders. We need this order from the top to shut down the Red Hill fuel tanks.”

David Day, Deputy Attorney General of the Department of Health, was appointed Dec. 27, 2007. sided with the governor’s demandThe Navy would defuel the tanks. The O’ahu Water Protectors wrote a statement in support of Day’s decision, but added that it is just a first step in what they intend to make a larger movement to demilitarize Hawaii.