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Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Honolulu Council Copies OHA Playbook--Threatens Military Leases in Hawaii
By News Release @ 5:03 AM :: 4635 Views :: Honolulu County, Greenmail, Military, OHA

Letter to Biden from Honolulu Council Leadership

The Honorable Joseph Biden President of the United States The White House

Dear Mr. President:   January 27, 2022

As the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Honolulu City Council, we are writing to express our grave concern over the U.S. Navy's handling of the Red Hill water crisis impacting Hawai'i residents on the main island of O'ahu, and location of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. On December 15, 2021, the Honolulu City Council passed Resolution 21-276, FD1, which urges the immediate defueling, permanent removal, and relocation of the U.S. Navy Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (Red Hill Facility). Fresh water is essential to the sustainability, economic stability, and overall future of our island community, and the Navy's pollution of O'ahu's single source aquifer has damaged the trust between the people of Hawai'i and the United States military. We urge you to direct the U.S. Navy to permanently remove the Red Hill Facility, including the 100 million gallons of petroleum fuel currently stored there, to start to repair the broken trust with the community, which could have long term and wide spread impacts.

The Red Hill Facility began operations in 1943, as a strategic facility to protect and supply fuel in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The facility consists of 20 tanks that combined can store up to 250 million gallons of fuel. The facility was constructed in a location where the tanks sit only 100 feet above the Southern O'ahu Basal Aquifer­ the primary drinking water source for the island. This aquifer alone provides drinking water for over 400,000 residents and visitors in Honolulu. In 1987, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that this aquifer is the "principal source of drinking water" for the island, and that "if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health."1

Despite a seven-decade-long history of chronic leaks and fuel spills from 1948 to present time, and despite the Navy's failure to perform appropriate inspections and maintenance of eight in-use tanks for over two decades, today over 100 million gallons of petroleum fuel continues to be stored in the Red Hill Facility. The continued storage of fuel in such close proximity to our groundwater supply, combined with the history of fuel leaks and spills, has been a matter of longstanding and growing concern. The Hawai'i State Department of Health has itself determined that the storage of fuel at the Red Hill Facility is "inherently dangerous," and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply has likewise expressed its grave concerns regarding the facility and the risks it poses to our municipal water supply system for a number of years.

The most recent history of leaks at the facility occurred in January of 2014, when the Red Hill Facility released 27,000 gallons of petroleum jet fuel into the environment.2 As a result, the Navy drained the tanks and took samples from monitoring wells showing increased levels of hydrocarbons in the soil and groundwater.3 This release was a warning sign that as the Red Hill Facility ages, it loses the ability to protect the public and environment from contamination in the future.

In 2021, two significant releases of fuel were reported, which ultimately caused the humanitarian and environmental emergency and disaster that we are still dealing with today.4 During these releases, the worst case scenario occurred: the release contaminated drinking water sources provided to O'ahu residents. Men, women, children, and pets drank water contaminated with fuel that ran from faucets in their homes, workplaces, schools, and in their day care centers. This has caused substantial physical injury and completely upended families' lives. 93,000 people were affected by the petroleum tainted water, and the disaster is ongoing.5 Thousands of families were forced out of their homes and hundreds are still not able to return. The contamination has still not been cleaned. The movement of the fuel in the aquifer is unknown, raising concerns over impacts to other fresh water wells, so much so that the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, Honolulu's water municipality, has stopped pumping from three of its wells. Moreover, federal officials have opined that it is not clear that current efforts to clean up the contamination will work.

We believe that the Navy's mishandling of the Red Hill crisis is jeopardizing national security interests and the overall relationship between the U.S. military and people of Hawai'i, which may impact the military's desire to continue use of State lands for Department of Defense (DOD) purposes. The people of Hawai'i, including the Native Hawaiian community, has long demanded better stewardship of the military's lands and resources through Hawai'i. In spite of the various environmental, legal, and cultural struggles over time, the State of Hawai'i 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.

With a significant presence in the Hawaiian islands, it is in the interest of your Administration and the Department of Defense to act to address the concerns of O'ahu residents. As recognized in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Hawai'i Military Land Use Master Plan, failing to adhere to principles to respect the land, people and culture of Hawai'i, and to build strong and resilient communities "has the strong potential to create long term and lasting damage to the [DOD]'s relationship and trust with the State and people of Hawai'i," and risk the Nation's defense. There is no question that the trust between the Navy and the State and the people of Hawai'i has been broken. We are at a fork in the road; without swift and definitive action to mitigate the current crisis and future impacts to the public health and the environment, the current lack of trust will undoubtedly impact community support for extending the plethora of leases of State land for DOD purposes, including the following:

  • Army's Pohakuloa Training Area,
  • Army's Kahuku Training Area,
  • Kawailoa Training Area,
  • Makua Military Reservation
  • Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF)
  • Kamokala Ridge
  • Makaha Ridge
  • Miloli'i Ridge
  • PMRF Ni'ihau
  • Air Force's Ka'ena Point Satellite Tracking Station
  • Ka'ala Air Force Station
  • Koke'e Air Force Station
  • Remote Maui Experimental Sites
  • Maui Space Surveillance Site

Again, we urge you to direct the U.S. Navy to protect our fresh water resources on the island of O'ahu by permanently removing the aging Red Hill Facility.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Mahalo nui,
  • U.S. Dept. of Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin U.S. Secretary of the Navy Carlos DelToro National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
  • Senator Brian Schatz
  • Senator Mazie Hirano Representative Ed Case Representative Kaiali'i Kahele Governor David Y. lge
  • Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi 
  1. 1See Southern Oahu Basal Aquifer in the Pearl Harbor Area at Oahu; Principal Source Aquifer Determination, 52 Fed. Reg. 45,497 {November 30, 1987).
  2. 2 See https:// - fuel-release -red-hill <Accessed on January 8, 2022>
  3. 3 See https:// - fuel-release -red-hill <Accessed on January 8, 2022>
  4. 4 Hearings Officer's Proposed Decision and Order 12/27/2021.
  5. 5 See https:// -much-larger than-reported/ <Accessed on January 8, 2022>

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COVERAGE: If Red Hill Crisis Drags On, Hawaii May Not Renew Military Base Leases


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