Danny De Gracia: Don't Stick Oahu Residents With The Bill For Red Hill - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Opinion article badgeIt is a common military tradition that problems should always be passed up the chain of command for solutions, not down. As the residents of Oahu discovered throughout the Red Hill fuel storage facility episode, the federal government was to blame for our problems, and the federal government had to be responsible for fixing them.

At the start of the fiasco, I thought it was premature for the Board of Water Supply to be acting as if all was lost and we were all just going to have to accept higher water rates to pay for cleanup or new water infrastructure. The Pottery Barn Rule — which says if you broke it, you bought it — applies when it comes to the federal government, and there is more than enough legal precedent over the years for states and cities putting the burden on higher government, not local taxpayers, to fix environmental disasters.

Here in Hawaii, though, our government officials seem to be addicted to policy self-flagellation. First there was the threat that if the Navy didn’t shut down Red Hill, we would over the long term have to pay higher rates to find a workaround. But now that the Navy has been ordered to shut down Red Hill – something that even President Biden has committed at least $100 million toward – we’re being told that we’re going to have to possibly slow Oahu construction and accept water conservation and even pay higher rates in some instances anyway.

Excuse me for being cynical, but how is it possible that any burden or inconvenience in this state always seems to fall on Oahu residents? Why are we always the ones who pay for other people’s mistakes, and the ones who have to fix the problems government inflicted upon us? Much to the relief of many of my readers, I am not a Hawaii state senator, because if I were, during the briefing earlier this month when BWS suggested that we would have to collectively endure the delays and scarcity of them playing it safe, I would have rebuked them for stepping out of their lane.

I hate to be the driver of discontent, but on Oahu, we simply cannot afford to hold people or business back any further for the mistakes of others. If the federal government is already throwing money at us to fix this problem, then we need to ensure that whatever additional problems we encounter are also solved with the full assistance and faith and credit of the federal government, not locals or local businesses.

Board of Water Supply Ernie Lau speaks during a Red Hill fuel tank rally held at the Capitol.
Ernie Lau, manager and chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply, seems to presume that Oahu residents should be on the hook for Navy mistakes. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

You won’t ever find me putting bumper stickers saying “I love Ernie Lau” — the head of BWS — on my car. And do you know why? Because I hate how every time Lau speaks about Red Hill, he presumes to put locals on the hook for the mistakes of the federal government. I am perpetually amazed at how much patience Gov. David Ige, let alone the Legislature, has with Lau, because there are consequences for ordinary people every time those in positions of stewarding public resources presume to crystal-ball their way through matters that impact the economy or local business.

Honolulu bureaucrats are a one-trick pony, and the only trick they know is to make you pay more or suffer more while they figure out how to run civilization. This has to stop.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that we can’t safely move forward with construction and water use on Oahu with extra funding and technical assistance from the federal government. Did Kuwait stop construction and grind the entire nation to a halt after the First Gulf War because Saddam Hussein had poisoned the environment by setting oil wells on fire? Of course not. They cleaned and fixed and built all at the same time with the help of the U.S. government, a concept which our local administrators would do well to consider.

This is not our war, and this not our bill to pick up.

I find it difficult to believe that any of our congressional delegation, if asked by Honolulu government, would ever say no to finding new ways to quickly move past the disruption caused by the Red Hill fiasco. We have got to end the local mindset that whenever something breaks, our first step should be to make people pay more and to shut down everything.

This island of Oahu and this state have already taken far too many knocks and blows to hamper people with additional burdens. We need to move forward and find ways to make things work in spite of the problems we have. As President Ronald Reagan famously said, “The American people, the most generous on Earth, who created the highest standard of living, are not going to accept the notion that we can only make a better world for others by moving backwards ourselves. Those who believe we can have no business leading the nation.”

How many times do we have to say it? Don’t make locals fix problems they didn’t create. This is not our war, and this not our bill to pick up.


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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Latest Comments (0)

I nor any resident of the State of Hawaii needs any more financial pressure placed on us. I don't want to pay for this fix and cleanup. No resident does nor should. That being said, with our water supply being in jeopardy the work needs to be done before it is too late. Our representatives and our state and local government need to fight hard and make the Navy and/or the Federal Government to foot the bill. But it has to be done even if we have to pay.

gasaraki · 4 months ago

The residents of Kaua’i had a sales tax increase to assist in paying for the light rail in Honolulu. How often will the light rail run to Kaua’i. I firmly believe that the Federal government should be responsible for the Red Hill cleanup, no matter how long it takes. However, if the residents of Oahu must contribute, remember that your light rail taxed all neighbor islands, the president has been set.

Quantumtorpedo · 4 months ago

Ernie Lau is just sounding the alarm and laying out the hard, cold consequences. Obviously, the federal government/much vaunted military should pay, but don’t try to pin any blame on Ernie Lau for having the courage to speak out and for continuing to do so. If anything, we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.

paulo · 4 months ago

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