So Much for Transparency:
Navy Unwilling to Release Report on Red Hill Contamination
Hawaii’s Governor Gets Wishy-Washy about Permanent Shut Down of Jet Fuel Tanks
August 1 is the earliest De-Fuel Tanks Could Begin, a Wait of 8 months
Teachers Speak of Trauma of Children from Military Families
By Ann Wright
We knew the U.S. Navy would slow roll the process of complying with the State of Hawaii to defuel the leaking 80-year-old jet fuel tanks that contaminated the drinking water of over 93,000 residents of O’ahu. The majority of the 93,000 were the military’s own families.
No Transparency on Navy Report-Will Release only Summary
The slow roll has begun. With transparency thrown out the window, the Navy’s announced on January 26 that it would release only the summary of the report on how jet fuel got into the water supply. “When the review is complete, we expect the Navy to provide a summary of the conclusions in a public release,” the chief of information for the Navy declared. The Navy has released full reports of previous leaks from the Red Hill tanks.
The full report was given to the Commander of the US Navy’s Pacific Command, 12 days ago on January 14 and the completed report was only acknowledged on January 24. The Sierra Club’s attorney David Kimo Frankel said, “The Navy continues to stonewall the public.”
On January 27, the Deputy Director of Hawaii’s Department of Health said she had not received the report, nor the scope of work of a third party contractor that is to do an assessment of the situation.
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz challenged the Navy’s withholding of the report saying it is essential that the public “has a full accounting of the multiple failures at Red Hill.”
Hawai’i Governor Now Wishy-Washy on Permanent Closure of Red Hill Tanks
Added to the Navy only releasing a summary of its report on the latest leak at Red Hill, the Governor of the State of Hawai’i, while continuing to call for defueling of the leaking tanks, is now NOT calling for permanently closing down of the Red Hill storage facility. In an interview with Civil Beat on January 25 , Governor David Ige said the Department of Defense is a huge presence in Hawaii and is a “vibrant part in our economy….In talking with them, they are committed. Their people are drinking from the same water source, and so they have an interest in keeping it safe and protected…I want to make certain that we can get to a place that is safer than we really feel today, but I also recognize that the military presence in our islands is an important part of our economy.”
Hawaii’s four Congressional delegates and Honolulu City Council members have called for the permanent closing of the facility.
Don’t Look for Immediate Defueling of the Leaking Tanks—And Possibility if not Probability of Navy “slow roll” of defueling citing repair needs.
Most likely the earliest to begin defueling is 8 months after the order to defuel.
Sierra Club Executive Director Wayne Tanaka stated on January 26, “We are not close to de-fueling. The Navy's interpretation of the de-fueling provision of the emergency order will drag things out.”
His prediction is already playing out. By my calculations, defuel will probably not begin until 8 months after the initial early December temporary emergency order to the Navy to shut down operations at Red Hill.
On December 6, 2021, Hawai’i Department of Health (DOH) issued a temporary emergency order to the Navy to suspend operation of the Red Hill jet fuel storage complex. After a two-day contested hearing in which the Navy challenged the order, on December 27, 2021 DOH issued final decision upholding order to defuel fuel tanks and shut down Red Hill complex and requiring the Navy to submit 30 days later on February 2, a workplan and implementation schedule for a commercial contractor to conduct an assessment. As of January 28, DOH has not seen the scope of work the Navy put into the assessment contract. The contractor’s assessment is to be completed 90 days later by April 30. Assuming the completed assessment is submitted to Hawaii’s DOH as required on April 30, DOH will evaluate the assessment which may take several weeks until around mid-May.
After DOH has reviewed the contractor’s assessment and plan for defuel, the Navy is to do “expeditious” repairs to the fuel tank system including the extensive pipe system to ensure that no leaks occur while the tanks are defueled. A best guess would be that the Navy would take 30-45 days to complete repairs putting the completion of repairs to around July 1. After repairs are made, the 30-day clock to finish the actual de-fueling begins and if the schedule is met, defueling should be finished around August 1 which would be 8 months after the initial temporary emergency order was issued.
All of this means that the timeline for the DOH ordered Navy defueling of the Red Hill tanks has many points in it where the Navy can “slow roll” the process. We may be lucky if the tanks are defueled in 2022!!
While the Navy and Politicians Dither, Water Contaminated Kids, Families and Schools Suffer
At a January 24, 2022 webinar on Red Hill water contamination sponsored by the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), several teachers representing seven of the public schools whose water is contaminated by the Navy jet fuel leak spoke on the challenges of teaching compounded by the lack of potable running water. Some students, mostly young kids in elementary schools, arrive at schools in pajamas with “bed head” and without breakfast when they have to leave hotels where they are living at 5:30am on contracted buses, or with parents who are driving them from the hotels as their military service is not providing buses. Several thousand military families have been living in hotels for six weeks or more.
The public schools no longer require students to be in “uniforms” as parents are having difficulty keeping uniforms clean at hotels with expensive laundry service or on base where washing machines in homes cannot be used due to fuel contaminated water and some base laundry facilities have been contaminated.
Teachers told of increasing behavior problems of kids whose lives have been disrupted by moving from their homes into small hotel rooms and who may not have access to computers at the hotel. Kids are concerned about many aspects of their disrupted lives including their pets who have been left in the homes and the kids go to see them and then leave them again.
Teachers said a surprising amount of their teaching day is spent in helping students wash their hands after using the restroom from large bottled water or from small bottles that young kids are unable to open themselves. Schools, principals and teachers have purchased water to ensure they have sufficient which takes away from funding the schools need for student resources. The military has provided bulk water which requires teachers and aides to carry heavy bottles from the “water buffalos,” creating more stress on the school staff.
School cafeterias cannot use tap water so meals are centered on pizza and chicken nuggets that can be heated up and served on throw-away paper plates. Parents are reporting that their kids no longer want pizzas at home as they have eaten so much of it at school.
As the January 28, 2022 editorial in Honolulu’s Star Advertiser wrote about the human costs, particularly to children, of the water contamination disaster: “As this Red Hill story drags on, information tends to fly at us in terms of millions of barrels of fuel, billions of dollars to forge a solution, decades to play out. The big numbers are scary, but almost so huge as to be mind-numbing. Consider instead several hundred young souls stumbling off to school in the early morning darkness. Because they can’t stay in their own homes. Because the water would make them sick. It’s a human cost that can’t be overlooked in all the talk of emergency orders, national security, compliance, transparency, monitoring, defueling, enforcement and so on.”
U.S. Military Gives $270 million Contract to Construct 11 Above Ground Fuel Tanks in Darwin, Australia
While the U.S. Navy argues that the 80-year-old, World War II leaking Red Hill jet fuel storage tank farm is vital to U.S. national security, the U.S. Department of Defense is contracting for above ground jet fuel tank farms to be built around the Pacific.
At long last, the public is finding out about DOD Logistics Agency plans for jet fuel storage. On January 25, Hawaii’s U.S. Congressman Kai Kahele revealed that the Department of Defense will be constructing “about a dozen fuel facilities in the Pacific that the military wants to build.”
On January 18, 2022, the Department of Defense announced that work has begun on a $270 million jet fuel tank farm near the port at Darwin, Northern Territories, Australia that will have 11 above-ground jet fuel tanks that will hold a total of 300 million liters or 80 million gallons of military jet fuel to support U.S. military operations in Australian and the Western Pacific. There are a little over double that amount- 180 million gallons- currently in Red Hill storage tanks.
The September 2021 winning bid on the project was Crowley Solutions, a Florida logistics company. U.S. military fuel will be brought into the port at Darwin, Australia by ocean tankers and then trucked to the tank farm and on to military bases in Darwin and Tindal in the Northern Territories. An Australian company, Saunders International, was awarded a $140 million contract for the design and construction of the 11 jet fuel storage tanks, which will be the largest facility of its kind in the Northern Territory. It will create 400 jobs during the construction phase and have 20 employees once it is operational. The tank farm will be finished in 2023.
Chinese Company Has Lease on the Port of Darwin for 99 years
Interestingly, the site for the U.S. military jet fuel storage tanks is adjacent to the Port of Darwin, the long-term lease of which was sold by the Northern Territories regional government in 2015 to the Chinese company Landbridge. The lease is for 99 years and was sold for Australian $506 million (US$390 million).
The Northern Territory's government decided to lease the port because it needed investment in the absence of federal funds.
The lease gives the Landbridge Group 100% operational control of the port and 80% ownership of the Darwin Port land, facilities of East Arm wharf including the marine supply base, and Fort Hill wharf.
In May, 2021, the Australian Defense Department began investigating whether the Landbridge Group, which is owned by Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng and has close ties to the Chinese military, should be forced to give up its ownership of Darwin Port on national security grounds.
The U.S. military jet fuel tanks will be next to an existing 174-million liter Vopak fuel storage facility. Vopak has 8 tank farms in the continental U.S., 7 tank farms in China in the total of 78 fuel tank farms it owns worldwide.
For 12 years, since citizen activism in Okinawa successfully demanded the drawdown of Marines after a series of rapes of Okinawan women and girls, the U.S. Marines have a Marine Rotational Force (MRF-D) assigned in Darwin. The MRF-D has 2,500 Marines rotating into Australia in groups of 500.
Every two years, Talisman Sabre, a large U.S.-Australian military exercise of 17,000 personnel, is held in Australia. The Australian navy frequently joins the U.S. Navy in naval exercises in the South China Sea.
US Government “Bots” Get Disinformation Article in Forbes Magazine Calling Citizen Protesters in Hawai’i “Bots” for China and Russia
Citizen activism has been very important in pushing State officials and the Hawaii Congressional delegation to demand that the 20 leaking jet fuel tanks be defueled and the Red Hill tank complex shut down.
Demonstrating how important citizen activism has been and the behind-the-scenes push-back from the U.S. military, Forbes online magazine published on January 25, 2022 “In the Pacific, Weaponized Outrage Is A Big Threat,” a very long article in which those protesting Red Hill are called Russian and Chinese "bots"—commenting in Red Scare language that "all a rival needs to do is to deploy a few bots on the internet to help nudge the “right” people towards concrete anti-Navy action...with weaponized outrage."
The article maligns the citizen protests on Viequez, Puerto Rico calling the protests the “tainted history of the citizen activism that led to the Navy stopping the bombing of the island of Viequez off Puerto Rico as well as what is happening in Hawaii with Red Hill.”
Interestingly, the article’s writer did not mention the powerful native Hawaiian activism that successfully forced the end of U.S. military bombing of the Hawaiian island of Kaho’olawe.
However, despite the negative characterization of the legitimate protest of native Hawaiians and residents of O’ahu, the end of the article comes to a conclusion that is important for the U.S. military to recognize:
"It is too easy to forget that military bases can only operate with the consent of the local populace. Being a good, responsible neighbor is a big part of that, but, somehow, in Hawaii and, frankly, some other places, the military isn't doing a good job. Base encroachment—a growing problem—offers more opportunities for poor relationship dynamics, often crystalizing into a sludgy, low-level resentment. On the military’s part, pesky locals—environmentalists who constrain operations, or native people who worry about the integrity of burial grounds, or storekeepers vexed at drunken rabble-rousers on leave—are too often seen as the enemy. With depressing regularity, local interests, concerns—even laws—are mocked, given lip service, or just quietly ignored.
If military leaders just get resentful about local concerns and priorities, and refuse to deal with them in a forthright, honorable manner, those issues will backfire on the military. If rivals jump in to exacerbate things, local frustrations can quickly bubble over, forcing the military out of strategic bases or facilities with bewildering speed.
The Pentagon’s lovable knuckle-draggers like to forget that lethality is only a part of war-fighting. Simple, boring base management, coupled with efforts to track and shift public opinion may not be the fight that many Navy leaders want, but it’s certainly part of the modern “battlespace”, and, at least near certain key bases and facilities, the fight for “hearts and minds” is far more immediate than any threat from somebody’s fancy new missiles."
Honolulu City Council Members Write President Biden Citing “Broken Trust” with the Navy- Support for the Military is NOT Unconditional
In ironic confirmation of the Forbes article warning of loss of the military’s loss of community support, on January 27, Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters and Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina wrote a 4-page letter to President Joe Biden urging him to order the Navy to permanently shut down Red Hill and defuel the tanks to begin to repair the “broken trust” within the community.
“The Navy’s mishandling of the crisis is jeopardizing national security interests and the overall relationship between the military and the people of Hawaii. The people of Hawaii, including Native Hawaiians, have for years demanded better stewardship of the land by the military…In spite of the various environmental, legal and cultural struggles over time, the State of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu have historically supported the United States military’s strategic positions and assets in our communities for decades….This support, however, is not unconditional.”
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was also a U.S. diplomat and served in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the U.S. government in 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”