WASHINGTON — Had President Joe Biden stepped out onto the north lawn of the White House on Tuesday he might have been greeted by chants in Olelo Hawaii.

“Ola i ka wai!” Water is life.

He also would have heard another message, one that wouldn’t need any translation.

“Shut down Red Hill.”

Nani Peterson, of Waianae, shouts at President Joe Biden in the White House to shut down Red Hill. Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2022

A small group of activists from Hawaii traveled to Washington this week to demand the closure of the Navy’s World War II era fuel tanks that last year sprung a leak that contaminated the drinking water and sickened thousands.

The Oahu Water Protectors staged a rally outside the White House that attracted dozens of participants at its peak and lasted more than two hours.

Kainoa Azama, of Kaneohe, said that although the Navy has committed to defueling the tanks by July 2024, community organizers need to stay vigilant so that they can hold government officials accountable for the promises they make.

More than 20,000 gallons of jet fuel from the Navy’s tanks at Red Hill are to blame for the drinking water contamination that sickened thousands on Oahu. Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2022

For far too long, he said, they ignored the concerns of the community until it was too late.

“We’d like to have a more meaningful conversation about the military’s relationship with Hawaii,” Azama said. “Clearly, the current relationship is poisonous, quite literally.”

Keoni DeFranco, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s event, said the group has tried to schedule meetings with all four members of Hawaii’s federal delegation.

So far, he said, U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, who was a forceful voice criticizing the Navy’s response to the crisis, is the only member who agreed to meet with them in person.

 

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