Why We Expect The Navy To Clean Up Its Mess - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Donna Oba

Donna Oba is president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii and past president of the Hawaii County League. She resides in Hawi on the Big Island.

We have a right to clean water and the means to obtain it.

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The League of Women Voters believes in stringent controls to protect the quality of current and potential drinking-water supplies, including protection of the aquifers serving Hawaii.

We’ve been “water watchers” for more than 50 years. We just never imagined how carefully we’d be watching the U.S. Navy.

No one knows the extent to which Navy fuel spills have contaminated the drinking water aquifer makai of Oahu’s Navy Bulk Fuel Storage at Red Hill and the Navy’s water distribution system, including those parts of the Navy system which distribute water supplied by the Board of Water Supply.

The news media are reporting (excellently) whatever information is available from Hawaii Health Department water quality monitoring, and these media efforts underscore the importance of a free press.

Whatever has been contaminated, average Hawaii citizens like us expect the Navy to clean up the pollution, compensate anyone they have injured, and compensate anyone who’s suffered property damage or a business loss because of the incidents. This should be undertaken with close state oversight for however long it takes.

Aliamanu AMR resident Cassandre Ferguson shares to military panel during a town meeting held at the Aliamanu Military Reservation Chapel.
Aliamanu Military Reservation Chapel resident Cassandre Ferguson shared her personal experiences with the smell of fuel in her house at a recent community meeting on the crisis. The desire to hold the Navy accountable for the water crisis is broad and growing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Our message here is that the Navy should not think opposition to their current fuel storage operation is limited to environmental champions like the Sierra Club. The Board of Water Supply and Health Department employees lead us well in this effort. Keep it up, please, because — you we trust!

Hawaii’s citizens are not powerless. We have a strong, well-established ethic of protecting natural resources and each other. We live in a democracy, where our elected Congressional and state officials are vigorously representing all their constituents, including members of our community who live in the affected military housing.

We also have direct “citizen rights” under the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and protection under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act and other Federal laws.

Hawaii’s citizens are not powerless.

Our congressional delegation is pressuring the Navy to take responsibility for this crisis, as required by law. The financial “pocket” for doing so is deep, very deep.

While the league believes that environmental enforcement should take place at the state level, it is essential that the federal government provide technical and financial assistance to Hawaii.

The Navy clearly must be forced to make infrastructure and operational changes that should have taken place over the past 70 years. We hope the Navy removes the underground tanks, replaces only what’s needed with double-lined above-ground tanks, and invests in the best available personnel and technology for monitoring fuel storage and distribution.

We defer to the Hawaii Department of Health and Honolulu Board of Water Supply about what safe, modern, petroleum-handling infrastructure should include, and whether it is appropriate to locate bulk fuel storage in a place where an accidental spill might contaminate our drinking water.

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About the Author

Donna Oba

Donna Oba is president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii and past president of the Hawaii County League. She resides in Hawi on the Big Island.

Latest Comments (0)

Making big body after the fuel is in the water? Where were they in 2014?

Fred_Garvin · 3 weeks ago

Mahalo, Donna, for sharing your thoughts. I'd like to see your name on a voter's ballot!

Thoughts.from.HI · 3 weeks ago

I would encourage Donna Oba and everyone else to research the history of water and soil contamination at the Camp Lejeune Military Base for an illustration of the military's lack of response and avoiding responsibility for years after the problem was discovered.

Joseppi · 4 weeks ago

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