Calvin Say: Red Hill Crisis Requires Hawaii To Unite And Act Now - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Calvin Say

Honolulu City Councilmember Calvin Say represents Council District 5, which includes Kaimuki, Palolo Valley, St. Louis Heights, Manoa, Moiliili, McCully and portions of Ala Moana, Kakaako and Makiki. He is chairman of the Council Budget Committee. He also served in the state legislature for decades, notably as Speaker of the House.


A quick resolution to the Red Hill water contamination crisis must be found, or Hawaii’s economy will face dire consequences.

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After 46 years in public service, I know residents are often frustrated about glacial government movement. Leaders need to lead, right now, and come together to eliminate this threat to life on Oahu.

On Jan. 3, the Hawaii Department of Health affirmed its order that the U.S. Navy defuel its Red Hill tanks. In mid-December, my Honolulu City Council colleagues and I adopted Resolution 21-276, urging the immediate defueling, permanent removal and relocation of the tanks.

These are just two of the latest actions among years’ worth of efforts by many, to protect our water and our island. Bill 48, protecting our environment from underground storage tanks like those at Red Hill, is up for public hearing Tuesday and we encourage residents to testify.

I want to form a committee of all three levels of government, plus the Navy and environmental groups, to create a living document that binds us and our successors, to fix this problem once and for all.

Board of Water Supply Manager and Chief Engineer Ernie Lau told us at our special council meeting in December that the 2015 Administrative Order on Consent between the state, Navy and Defense Logistics Agency has failed to protect our island from harm. For me, personally, when you have a living document, you can fulfill the goal.

Oahu Water Protectors demonstrate in opposition to the Red Hill fuel tanks at the Capitol.
Oahu Water Protectors demonstrated in opposition to the Red Hill fuel tanks at the Capitol in December. Councilman Calvin Say is pushing a legislative solution. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

We cannot wait to defuel the tanks and relocate the military’s strategic fuel reserve to a location that does not threaten our water supply. We obviously depend on drinking water to sustain our lives, and everyone needs to realize that the three main pillars of our economy are also dependent on pure water.

Tourism, defense spending and construction are all interrelated with water that is threatened by the Red Hill tanks. If fuel storage is allowed to continue there and another catastrophic leak occurs, our economic pillars may collapse.

Life-Threatening Problem

I’m not a doom-and-gloom guy, I’m just acknowledging things we should all be talking about. We have to be realistic, and protective of our home. Military leaders, service-members and their families come and go, which is partly why we still have this life-threatening problem hanging over our heads — and over our water supply.

Because the tanks contaminated the water supply for military housing areas, local businesses and other facilities, the largest water source on Oahu, the Halawa Shaft, was shut down Dec. 2. The Aiea and Halawa Wells were shut down Dec. 8.

In our December meeting, Lau questioned whether the BWS could sustainably grant water usage permits for new developments if these major water sources were shut down. How, then, can we fill our desperate need for affordable housing?

Without these projects, our construction industry and all the mouths it feeds, would suffer. Much of the proposed workforce housing along the rail line is in the area affected by now-closed water sources, so transit-oriented development would be crippled.

We have to be realistic, and protective of our home.

If our aquifers are contaminated by further Red Hill leaks, or if the existing plume of petroleum contamination crosses into our aquifers, Oahu will no longer be a desirable paradise for visitors, or more importantly, for generations of kamaaina.

We keep hearing from the military that things have been fixed and such leaks and releases will never happen again. My longtime colleagues in the Legislature had a word for that — shibai.

I hope my elected colleagues and our community will unite in this moral imperative to defuel the Red Hill tanks — now. This committee must be formed so we can commit to the protection of our water at the county, state and federal levels. Our lives, and our economy, depend on it.

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About the Author

Calvin Say

Honolulu City Councilmember Calvin Say represents Council District 5, which includes Kaimuki, Palolo Valley, St. Louis Heights, Manoa, Moiliili, McCully and portions of Ala Moana, Kakaako and Makiki. He is chairman of the Council Budget Committee. He also served in the state legislature for decades, notably as Speaker of the House.


Latest Comments (0)

Mahalo, Calvin Say, for continuing to pressure the Navy to refuel the Red Hill tanks. Today's headline in the Star Advertiser is encouraging: NAVY TO DRAIN FUEL TANKS. However, if you read the article in full, it is less reassuring news. "Under the emergency order, the deadline for refueling the tanks is not specific." Until the Navy is forced to refuel the Red Hill tanks forever, a critical aquifer for most of Oahu's water remains in danger. We must continue to fight the Navy with the support of our congressmen, and the Sierra Club. Grassroots activists, city councilmen, congressmen and individual citizens are essential to protecting the pure drinking water Oahu depends on. We must go all in.

4Kaneohe · 10 months ago

Anthropologists and Geologists take earth cores to date epochs of events. Wouldn’t that record the geology data for previous spills from 1940 to December 2021? We have the science and technology to date previous endangerment to our water table.

Oldperson · 10 months ago

Patutoru: You are correct. Joe Biden can order the Navy to cease its opposition to the DOH order and de-fuel and decommission expeditiously rather than spend years in litigation. The Navy has verbally agreed to follow the DOH order, but will not commit to acknowledging the State's legal jurisdiction over Red Hill and will not agree to drop its legal machinations. Everyone should be up in arms over this. One important thing everyone can do is email the White House at its website--you'll get a bland letter of acknowledgement. I don't think the issue is on Biden's radar yet, but if enough people write or email, he will eventually get the message.

standaman · 10 months ago

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