Star Advertiser: Threat of Red Hill fuel spill ignored

By Colleen Soares
September 27, 2017

The Red Hill water contamination issue is often on my mind, and all of us in Hawaii should be scared about the potential disaster awaiting if the 77-year-old fuel tanks are not shut down. Hawaii’s water is under threat, and we should not become complacent. The Environmental Protection Agency may soon have minimal resources given the current political climate, and Hawaii’s local government must step up to fill that void and ensure our safety.​ ​

The state Department of Health has the responsibility of protecting Hawaii’s drinking water supplies, and the public’s health from contamination. If you have read the history of the Camp Lejeune water contamination disaster in North Carolina, your complacency may be shaken (see The parallels with the Red Hill water contamination here on Oahu are disturbing.

Both Red Hill and Camp Lejeune involve many huge and old fuel storage tanks built in the 1940s, and buried underground near drinking water supplies. Camp Lejeune contamination happened over a long period of time between the 1950s and 1980s. Contamination was discovered and ignored in the 1980s, after repeated warnings by scientists. Repeated warnings were ignored and there was delay — some say stonewalling — on the part of the military, and cases are still being investigated and litigated today, decades later. The contamination has affected 1 million people who had lived at Camp Lejeune and are suffering a variety of deadly diseases.

With Red Hill, there is also delay, and lack of transparency. We do know that sometime before 2013, 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked from fuel tanks located above the Halawa aquifer. We know that “Environmental sampling over the years has shown a number of fuel releases dating back to 1947.” And we know that in 2015, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply found that the groundwater aquifer, “is contaminated to various levels from petroleum contaminants below and near the facility,” according to a 2015 TV news report.

In December 2014, a report to the state of Hawaii by the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility Task Force noted this: “Each tank was originally built with a leak detection system that consisted of a series of pipes that could potentially collect any released fuel at a central location. The Navy later determined [in 1970] that this initial leak detection system had design flaws which resulted in numerous false reports. This system was subsequently removed.”

​As note​d above, the Navy later determined problems with the dete​​ction system, but the public needs to know about the false reports. Why were they deemed false and what did the reports say? Could it be that the reports showed a high leakage that was misread, unbelievable and thus ignored, like at Camp Lejeune? And, when was anot​her leak detection system put in place?

The Red Hill study noted that in 2008, $120,000 was spent researching secondary containment and leak detection technology options, but there is lack of transparency about a new leak detection system. Like Camp Lejeune, the potential disaster at Red Hill of a poisoned Hawaiian water supply and resulting deadly diseases, is being underplayed, delayed and ignored.

Colleen Soares has a Ph.D. in education and was a university professor for many years. She is also the current Chair of the Outings Committee for the Sierra Club O‘ahu Group.

Star Advertiser: Hawaii to get $1.45M for electric buses

By Star-Advertiser staff
September 18, 2017

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz announced today that the federal government will award $1.45 million to the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services for the purchase and deployment of fully electric transit buses.

“Hawai‘i has long been a leader in clean energy, and the city of Honolulu is building on that legacy by transitioning to buses that will keep our air clean,” Senator Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a press release. “I’m glad that this funding will take our state one step closer to reaching our goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.”

Schatz’s office said a zero-emission electric bus could eliminate nearly 1,700 tons of carbon pollution over its 12-year lifespan, the equivalent of taking 27 cars off the road.

The funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation is part of Honolulu’s ongoing effort to electrify its public transit operation through public-private partnerships. Hawaiian Electric is expected to install the electric infrastructure for up to five Battery-Electric Buses while Gillig Corporation LLC, the largest all-American bus manufacturer in the United States, will produce the buses.

Chair Anthony Aalto discusses Climate Change on Think Tech Hawaii

Dr. Ruth Gates was co-host of an event this week that brought educators, legislators, researchers, NGOs, activists and the media together at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology on Moku O Lo’e (aka Coconut Island.) While some impressive research breakthroughs have been made, not much has been done to address the impact of 10 million humans a year (9 million of them tourists) to our coral reefs and nearshore areas. Filmmaker and Chair of the Sierra Club O‘ahu Group Anthony Aalto and Kaui Lucas also attended the working group grappling with political palatability and climate reality. Aalto is currently making a feature length documentary about Climate change. What and how do we communicate to change human behavior?

Bill 57- Ko‘olau Poko Sustainable Communities Plan

The O‘ahu Group submitted the following written and oral testimony regarding the Ko‘olau Poko Sustainable Communities Plan before the Council’s Transportation and Planning Committee on August 1, 2017. There were several proposed amendments to the bill that we addressed in our comments:


The Committee considered several of our comments and aligned with our position- they did not extend the Community Growth Boundary into the DeReis property in Kahalu‘u, they approved transferring ownership of the Stairway to Heaven from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply to the City and County, and although they approved the expansion of the Hawaiian Memorial Park, they included an amendment to ensure the protection of any “rare, threatened, or endangered species” that may potentially be affected by the proposal. Hawaiian Memorial Park has also hired a entomologist to complete a biological survey of the expansion area to locate the habitat of the endangered Hawaiian Blackline Damselfly and assess the impacts of the development in the project’s EIS. We will stay updated with this process to ensure Hawaiian Memorial Park is held accountable to the commitments they made before the community and Council. Bill 57 passed third reading on August 9th, 2017.

Haleiwa Plantation Village- Bill 55 and Bill 56 (2017)

The O‘ahu Group submitted the following testimony in opposition to the proposed Haleiwa Plantation Village in Bill 55 (2017) and Bill 56 (2017). The Zoning and Housing Committee unanimously deferred both bills at the August 3rd, 2017 Special Committee Meeting in Haleiwa. More information about the Bills and the result of the hearing can be found in the Civil Beat article below. Many thanks to North Shore residents Jen Homcy, Blake McElheny, and Kathleen Elliot for their guidance on this issue to the O‘ahu Group:

Aloha Chair Pine, Vice Chair Anderson, and members of the Zoning and Housing Committee,

On behalf of the Sierra Club O‘ahu Group’s 8,000 members and supporters, we oppose Bill 55 (2017) and Bill 56 (2017), which would rezone land in Haleiwa from agricultural to urban/residential for the proposed Haleiwa Plantation Village (HPV) project. We respectfully request that the Zoning and Housing Committee oppose Bill 55 and Bill 56 in light of the following inadequacies and issues:

Development on agricultural lands- The O‘ahu Group of the Sierra Club is generally opposed to up zoning agricultural lands for development because we believe it is an urgent priority to increase food production on O‘ahu. In this we take our cue from researchers and faculty at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, who are increasingly sounding the alarm about the need to rapidly increase the amount of food grown in Hawai‘i. This is to meet the mounting threat of global food shortages and food price inflation as a result of climate change, as well as the threat to the just-in-time food distribution network from the anticipated increase in frequency and destructiveness of severe weather events. The HPV proposal would convert valuable agricultural land to urban uses in rural Haleiwa. The applicant argues that the land is unfit for farming, however, the land is currently being farmed! It is planted with fruit trees and adjacent areas around the Haleiwa Marsh currently farm taro, lotus, and other crops. Furthermore, a portion of the land has been proposed for designation as Important Agricultural Land by the City & County of Honolulu, while most of the Northern Property has soils that are rated Prime, meaning that they are regarded as high-quality soils.

Affordable housing uncertainty- The HPV project purports to add 29 lots with up to 35 homes within R5 zoning. New rules administered by the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting would potentially permit additional Accessory Dwelling Units, which would increase the number of allowable homes in the development area. While the Sierra Club understands the need for new affordable housing for local families on the North Shore and indeed supports construction of housing within the urban core of the legacy towns of La‘ie, Kahuku, and Haleiwa, we believe that such development should occur in denser configurations that are pedestrian and transit oriented, not as traditional single family homes. The law requires that 30 percent of the lots be made affordable to people earning not more than 140 percent of area median income, but because these will be individually sold as vacant lots, there is no guarantee that the homes that are ultimately built will in fact be occupied by local families in need of “workforce” housing.

Lack of community support- The Honolulu Planning Commission recommended that the City Council reject the HPV proposal in March 2017. Additionally, the North Shore Neighborhood Board passed a Resolution in October 2016 opposing the State Land Use Boundary change from Agriculture to Urban. The Sierra Club is bound by its bylaws to support community concerns on environmental issues wherever possible. We believe the Council should show deference to the concerns of the community as expressed by the Neighborhood Board.

We appreciate that a special Zoning and Housing Committee meeting is being held in Haleiwa, so that community members directly affected by the proposed housing project will be given an opportunity to raise their concerns. We ask that you consider the issues above and vote against Bill 55 (2017) and Bill 56 (2017).

Council Committee Defers Proposal To Develop Haleiwa Farmland

Two bills would have rezoned seven acres of agricultural land to urban or residential and allowed for up to 35 homes
By Natanya Friedheim / August 2, 2017

The Honolulu City Council zoning committee deferred two bills Tuesday night that would have rezoned seven acres of agricultural land in Haleiwa to either residential or urban.

Scott Wallace, who bought the land in 2010, said he wanted to divide it into 29 lots and sell each for an estimated price of $175,000 to $200,000. Bills 55 and 56 would have allowed him to do so.

The land sits along Achiu Lane, just off Kamehameha Highway makai of the North Shore Marketplace.

The nearly three-hour meeting at a gym in Haleiwa lasted till nearly 10 p.m.

Scott Wallace purchased the Haleiwa property in 2010 with the intention of developing it residentially. Courtesy of Malia Evans.

After the public testimony, the room grew tense as Councilman Ernie Martin, who represents the North Shore but is not a member of the committee, stated his opposition to the proposed development despite considering Wallace a “good friend.”

“There’s overwhelming consensus against the project,” Martin said. “I’ve been very reluctant to support any type of development in my district … I subscribe to that philosophy that growth should be more directed towards urban Honolulu as well as the second city.”

The majority of attendees who testified opposed the bills. Many argued they would set a dangerous precedent for rezoning agricultural land for housing.

There also were concerns about Haleiwa’s already heavy traffic.

In March, the Honolulu Planning Commission also opposed the proposal and recommended the council reject it.

“I see that this project could provide some solid opportunities for affordable housing,” said Councilman Ikaika Anderson. However, he added, “it’s obvious that the community still has a lot of concern here.”

Anderson was one of thee committee members at the meeting. He and Councilman Brandon Elefante supported committee Chair Kymberly Pine’s call to defer the bill.

Councilman Ron Menor, who attended but is not a committee member, said the decision demonstrated the council’s consideration of public interests.

“I hope that tonight’s recommendation from the chair and this committee’s support for her recommendation demonstrates that as council members we do listen to the public, we do listen to the community,” he said.

Loud Hiker Blues

Written by Colleen Soares, O‘ahu Group Outings Committee Chair


You wake up early, excited and looking forward to the day. You eat and dress quickly, grab your water and pack, and head for the hills. You’re going hiking, to the top of the Pali! And you’re pumped! You park in a residential area, houses all around. You see a friend, climb out, slam the door, and holler good morning. You’re excited and talking loudly as you walk two blocks to the trailhead, past other houses. It is Saturday, 8 am.

Meanwhile…on the other side of the door… You are deeply asleep when you are awakened sharply by loud music and car doors slamming outside your bedroom window. The clock says 8 am. You are exhausted, and all week, you’ve been looking forward to the one morning you can sleep in. But the music and loud talk and slamming continues. Now, you are fully awake. And angry! You look outside and shake your head. It’s those damn hikers again!

There has been much discussion and complaint about these problems. We are talking about common sense and courtesy from trail users. But we’re human, and we forget, especially in the exuberance of an early morning excursion with friends. Trail users want access to trails, safety and parking. We need parking areas at Kuliouou, and at Maunawili, Manana and other state Na Ala Hele trails that don’t have anything but street parking. More and more people are taking to the trails, and parking has become the major problem. Additionally, busloads of tourists are ferried to trailheads, and we hope they are reminded often that people live nearby.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources receives the brunt of complaints. Hikers talk loudly, slam car doors, obstruct driveways, use water hoses in residents’ yards, and track mud across lawns and cement. DLNR will soon install a few signs to remind us to be more considerate, but they will be at the trailhead, after the noise damage is done. DLNR cannot do the whole job. They have mountains of work to do to keep our parks and trails safe.

DLNR has huge responsibilities and needs a bigger share of state funds in order to protect and conserve our natural resources. “DLNR is responsible for 1.3 million acres of state land, 3 million acres of state ocean waters, 2 million acres of conservation district lands, our drinking water supply, our fisheries, coral reefs, indigenous and endangered flora and fauna, and all of Hawaii‟s historic and cultural sites. And yet, the total operating DLNR budget adds up to less than 1% of the entire state operating budget and 1.6% of permanent civil service workforce.” Auwe!

Support for Two New Affordable Housing Measures

The O‘ahu Group supports two new Honolulu City Council bills that will help create a better affordable housing strategy for Honolulu.

Bill 58 (2017) relating to affordable housing requirements would increase the production of affordable housing, to encourage dispersal of affordable housing throughout the City and County of Honolulu, and to maintain the units as affordable for a long period of time. Please see our testimony below:

Bill 59 (2017) relating to affordable housing incentives would to provide financial support for the creation and maintenance of affordable dwelling units that are provided through compliance with bills and ordinances relating to an Affordable Housing Requirement, Planned Development-Transit  permits, and Interim Planned Development-Transit permits, and qualifying rental housing projects pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes. Please see our testimony below:


O‘ahu Group guest hosts ThinkTech Hawaii

This summer, the O‘ahu Group is guest hosting 4 ThinkTech Hawai‘i episodes of “Hawai‘i is my Main Land” to share and discuss a few of the environmental issues our organization is championing. Mahalo to Kaui Lucas and the ThinkTech ohana for this great opportunity. Please enjoy the episodes below and check out “Hawaii is my Main Land” with Kaui Lucas- live on ThinkTech every Friday at 3 pm.

The Sierra Club Asks- How Many Hikers Can O‘ahu Handle? July 14, 2017

Jodi Malinoski, the Sierra Club O‘ahu Group Coordinator, discusses the Sierra Club’s Outings program, which leads weekly hikes and service projects on Oahu. Randy Ching, volunteer Outings leader and executive committee member for the Sierra Club O‘ahu Group, describes the impact of tourism and social media on our natural resources and trails. The Sierra Club asks: how many hikers are too many? What can be done to ensure the protection of our O‘ahu trails, cultural sites, and native ecosystems now and into the future?

What is Sustainable Community Design? July 21, 2017

Rob Kinslow, Sierra Club O‘ahu Group Executive Committee volunteer has a long background in sustainable community development, promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable business in Hawai‘i for more than a decade.On tis episode of Hawai‘i is My Main Land, Rob is joined by Christen Noelani Oliveira, a Sustainable Community Systems Designer, currently a program manager at Kokua Kalihi Valley. Together they discuss Christen’s design work in sustainable communities and highlight the enormous potential for communities and social systems to become sustainable in our islands.

Hawai‘i’s Industrial Hemp Revolution, August 4th, 2017

Sai Weiss, Sierra Club O‘ahu Group Treasurer invited Senator Russell Ruderman (Puna, Big Island) to discuss Hawaii’s industrial hemp revolution and the future economic opportunities and challenges that exist. They explore the history, viability and legality around industrial hemp.

Transforming Community Organization 101, August 11, 2017

Live from the East Coast, Jeffrey Kim one of six Hawaii participants (including 3 State Representatives) to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s political candidate training in Washington DC, reports via Skype on Hawaii is My Main Land. Jeff and Kaui Lucas delve into changing the way communities organize, from transactional to transformational. Jeffrey is an executive committee member of the O‘ahu Group and a co-chair of the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i’s energy subcommittee.

Civil Beat: Threat To Drinking Water Remains As Navy Studies Options For Fuel Tanks

The facility has 20 tanks with a total capacity of 250 million gallons of fuel. It is the largest underground fuel tank system in the nation, and the Navy says it’s essential to military operations in the Pacific.

But the aging tanks are near two Oahu aquifers that supply thousands of residents with drinking water, and they have a history of leaking. In January 2014, 27,000 gallons of fuel spilled, prompting a public outcry and regulatory agencies to take action.

The security fence at Red Hill underground fuel tank facility in 2014. Access is restricted because it’s still an operational military facility. ©PF Bentley/Civil Beat

In October 2015, the Navy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Hawaii Department of Health signed an “administrative order on consent” that set out a 22-year timeline to upgrade the tanks. The agencies’ press release announcing the agreement said the Navy would “evaluate potential cleanup methods and assess the risk the facility poses to Oahu’s drinking water resources, all within the next two years.”

But the Navy is still six months away from turning in a report analyzing various options for upgrading the tanks, and state and federal officials anticipate it will take three to six months to choose the best one.

“I can’t say the exact schedule because it will depend on a number of factors,” said Tom Huetteman, assistant director in the Land Division for EPA Region 9. “Once we have the document on hand we will get to work.”

Steven Chang of the health department said additional reports on assessing risks and investigating fuel releases aren’t expected until next year.

The EPA and DOH sent a letter to the Navy  last month criticizing the quality of the data it has provided so far.

“They didn’t have a full, good grasp of the degree of the work that’s involved.” — Erwin Kawata, Honolulu Board of Water Supply

“The Navy has spent almost two years on the environmental investigation and modeling aspects of the Red Hill AOC, yet little additional information about environmental conditions in the area has been collected,” the regulatory agencies wrote.

In response, the Navy hired more consultants to beef up its expertise. Mark Manfredi, the lead Navy official on the project, acknowledged the data fell short but said that doesn’t mean the final reports will be delayed.

Manfredi said since the agreement was signed in October 2015, the Navy has spent about $20 million on various improvements including installing additional monitoring wells, increasing the frequency of tank testing and completing multiple reports.

Huetteman, Chang, and Manfredi all say that the process is still on schedule.

But Erwin Kawata from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply said the agencies gave the impression that studies and analysis would get done within the first two years, and that’s not the case.

“It’s going to go beyond that,” he said. “There’s just so many technical issues, concepts, principles that need to be evaluated. They didn’t have a full, good grasp of the degree of the work that’s involved.”

He thinks it will take longer than expected to decide which alternative to pursue, and said he’s concerned about the potential for additional contamination if the process of upgrading the tanks is dragged out.

Jodi Malinoski from the Sierra Club Hawaii is also worried that the Navy is falling behind schedule. She’s frustrated that the Navy gets 22 years to upgrade the tanks to begin with.

“By the time it’s finished the tanks will be nearly 100 years old and the tanks were not built to last forever,” she said.

Kawata was disappointed that the Legislature didn’t approve a bill this year that would have required the Navy to double-line the tanks.

Sen. Mike Gabbard introduced the proposal with the support of groups like the Sierra Club Hawaii, but it died quickly in the Senate.

Chang said the bill was premature because figuring out the best way to prevent future leaks requires more analysis.

“It’s not an off-the-shelf solution,” Chang said.

Meanwhile, lack of staffing and resources is a looming potential challenge. The health department has been trying to hire an engineer, geologist and environmental health specialist to better understand the Navy’s reports, and the state agency is bracing for potential budget cuts because many of its positions are federally funded.

Chang himself is thinking of retiring, in part because the division is moving from Kakaako to a new location in Pearl City and he lives in East Honolulu, although he’s considering staying on as a volunteer.

Manfredi said he understands concerns about potential delays, but that the Navy is taking the process seriously.

“At the end of the day the Navy isn’t gaining anything by delaying any of this work,” he said. “The longer it takes us to make a decision the less time we have to do this. It’s in our best interest to get this knocked out as soon as we can.”