OHA Calls for Shut Down of the Navy’s Red Hill Fuel Tanks


Statement issued by Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey on Dec. 7, 2021

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) strongly supports Gov. Ige and the Hawaiʻi congressional delegation’s call to shut down the Navy’s Red Hill fuel tanks before permanent, irreparable damage is done to our aquifer and Oʻahu’s main source of clean drinking water is lost forever.

A complete emergency shut down and full assessment of the Red Hill facility is necessary to protect our precious water resources. Immediate measures should be taken to treat contaminated drinking water in the Red Hill well shaft, and fuel should be swiftly and safely removed from all 20 underground storage tanks.

This is a long-standing issue. The tanks were built in the 1940s and were not made to last forever. Over the years, more than 180,000 gallons of fuel have leaked from the tanks and tests show they are corroding underground. A mere 100 feet below the leaking fuel tanks is the Southern Oʻahu Basal Aquifer – the primary source of drinking water for Oʻahu. This aquifer alone provides drinking water for over 400,000 Hawaiʻi residents and visitors from Hālawa to Hawaiʻi Kai.

Infographic of Hawaii's Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility

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The Navy’s abysmal failure to address this major, ongoing environmental issue has already drastically impacted military families affected by the latest Red Hill fuel leak. The wellbeing of all Hawaiʻi residents that depend on the Southern Oʻahu aquifer is being severely jeopardized by the Navy’s egregious negligence. The Navy can no longer brush aside public concerns. Urgent and immediate action must be taken to protect our water resources.

The U.S. Military has a long history of poor stewardship of Hawaiʻi’s natural and cultural resources. At places like Kahoʻolawe, Pōhakuloa, Mākua and Kahuku, time after time the people of Hawaiʻi have been left to clean up after the military ravages our sacred lands – from unexploded ordnance and toxic waste to the loss of cultural and historic sites and endangered native species – without even appropriating resources to finance these efforts. In the case of Kahoʻolawe, the island’s caprock was destroyed by years of relentless bombing by the Navy so there can never be a freshwater source for the island.

Trust is earned and the Navy has not demonstrated that it can be entrusted with the stewardship of our most precious resource, clean water. Indeed, the Navy’s lack of transparency with an issue this critical to Hawaiʻi Nei has simply been shocking.

As the events of the Red Hill fuel leaks unfold, OHA’s Board of Trustees is concurrently reviewing the published Hawaiʻi Military Land Use Master Plan, including proposed military expansions, for alignment and accountability to overall land, water and cultural stewardship pono practices.

Immediate action is needed to protect our water resources. OHA continues to support the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi’s call to find a long-term solution to this critical issue.

It is a fundamental truth that wai gives life ma ka honua nei and we uphold the principle of water as a public trust. We recognize that wai is central to the Native Hawaiian worldview and who we are as a people, connecting past, present and future generations. We acknowledge the vital importance of wai to all people, yet also its unique significance to Native Hawaiians.

Our kuleana as a leader is to help protect Hawaiʻi’s natural and cultural resources, redress ongoing injustices and promote pono stewardship practices. It is OHA policy to advocate for appropriate, responsible and just land and water stewardship practices and values throughout Hawaiʻi, empowering OHA and communities to carry the shared responsibility of protecting and ensuring the proper management of our natural and cultural resources.

Speaking Out to Protect our Wai

Numerous organizations and community members have organized to put their collective mana into speaking out against the Navy’s handling of the leaking fuel tanks at Red Hill.

Kamanamaikalani Beamer, PhD
Hawaiian Studies Professor, UH Mānoa Richardson School of Law

Photo: Kamana Beamer

“Today is about wai, it’s about water. Today is about justice, about truth and the courage to speak out. We have a kuleana, a duty, to ensure the lives that come after us – the babies and the keiki that we bring into our world – will have the fresh, clean, and life-giving waters of our islands.”

“Will we allow the precious life-giving waters of Kāne to be violated because of the Navy’s inaction? The answer is no, ʻaʻole.”

Shelley Muneoka
Board Member, KAHEA The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance

Photo: Shelley Muneoka

“One of the greatest challenges and greatest strengths of this fight is that it is a collective one. We are counting on each other to remember that we are a part of a greater whole. We will stand with military families who have been affected. What happened to you is wrong and you deserve answers. We hope that you will stand with us, even after you are transferred to your next deployment, away from the contamination. That you will remember that we are still here, and we will be dealing with this issue for generations. This issue transcends politics, ethnicity, nationality, military, civilian, even species status. We are in this together to fight for our water, for life. Ola i ka wai!”

Andre Perez
Organizer, Hawaiian Unity and Liberation Institute; Leader, Kaʻohewai

Photo: Andre Perez

“For those that think the fuel tanks are important for national security, to me it’s important to think about when those tanks were built. They were built in the middle of a world war in the 1940s. And I don’t think the Navy needs 250 million gallons of jet fuel during this time, this political situation. There’s no world war going on right now. Why do they need 250 million gallons of jet fuel? They need to reduce and demilitarize our land and engage in behavior that’s responsible and treat it as if everyone lives downstream. We are the people downstream, while these Navy commanders process out of Hawaiʻi, we are still going to be here. The fuel tanks cannot take priority over human safety and human lives. We all need water, you can’t drink jet fuel.”

Kalehua Krug, PhD
Principal, Ka Waihona Public Charter School

Photo: Kalehua Krug

“Nothing is more important to the wellbeing of our islands and the life it supports than wai, precious water. Wai is a kino lau (body form) of our gods Kāne and Kanaloa. When we think of land and water as the bodies of our gods who nurture life, we care for those bodies. When we see land and water as commodities for human benefit, we exploit them. We are here to protect Kāne and Kanaloa.”

Jamaica Osorio, PhD
Assistant Professor, UH Mānoa Department of Political Science

Photo: Jamaica Osorio

“I believe there is so much good our lāhui can do for the good of humanity. But we cannot only auamo that kuleana if we are still here to share our ʻike, tell our moʻolelo, and aloha our ʻāina. There is no greater threat to the survival of our lāhui than the health of our ʻāina, wai, and kānaka. The protection of our precious wai is the kuleana of all kānaka (and all people who live in Hawaiʻi). Let us fight to protect our wai like our lives depend on it. Because they do. Because to fail, is to welcome the full and unquestionable demise of our Lāhui Kānaka. And our people have survived far too much to give up now.”

Wayne Tanaka
Director, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi

Photo: Wayne Tanaka

“The Native Hawaiian community had no part in allowing the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility to be buried 100 feet above our island’s groundwater supply. This is not a problem created by Native Hawaiians nor should they have to shoulder the burden of cleaning the messes of those who see our ʻāina, our wai as expendable. Nonetheless, Native Hawaiians have been fighting to protect this water, this source of life for years, for decades.

“With the Kaʻohewai Coalition now rising I can feel that the tide is turning. Every other group, every person that understands how important this water is to our island and our ways of life must now do the same. Only together will we be able to protect our island’s water supply from the threat of this decrepit 80-year-old Red Hill facility, once and for all. The Navy needs to understand that we, all of us who call this island home, are not expendable. Our life-giving water is not expendable. And anything other than the immediate removal of the poison [stored at] Kapūkakī that threatens our island’s groundwater supply is unacceptable.”