Residents of West Oahu complex report lingering water issues a year after Red Hill crisis
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s been a year since a leak in the Navy’s underground Red Hill fuel storage facility contaminated a water system that serves about 93,000 people on Oahu.
Despite reassurances from military leaders, residents in one Ewa Beach community say they’re still suffering the effects.
Volunteers, the Oahu Water Protectors and members of the Shut Down Red Hill Coalition still give out bottled water to residents of Kapilina Beach Homes once a month.
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Former resident Xavier Bonilla moved to Los Angeles earlier this year.
Bonilla said his son nearly died after using contaminated water.
“His body ... looked like he had a really bad sunburn where the skin was fully raised and red and then his throat was closing,” he said. “It’s been a year of horror and it’s been a year of just trying to find our normalcy in our lives again. When I moved out It took months for skin problems to go away.”
While the Navy has said the system is safe, many residents don’t trust the water.
“There are still areas where people are still getting film on their water a sheet, or they have some smell or they’re still suffering various symptoms,” activist Hanaloa Helela said.
“We don’t have the help from the people that unfortunately seem to have contaminated the water in the first place,” resident Jyen-Ai Jones said.
Military officials say they’re expediting the safe defueling of the facility, targeting July 2024 for completion.
Activitists feel that’s too long and are holding protests this weekend to call for swifter action.
“I just really hope that the Navy ... really does do what they say. They keep claiming they’re good stewards of the land but they haven’t shown that,” Bonilla said.
On Friday, Joint Task Force Red Hill hosted the first meeting of the Defueling Information Sharing Forum — a group of about a dozen local officials, elected leaders and community advocates.
“For the first time since this crisis happened, the military leadership has come forward and said, ‘We want to take proactive steps to get feedback from a diverse group of local perspectives,’” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, who represents Kaneohe and Kailua and is one of the forum members.
Keohokalole says any dialogue with the military is a good first step.
“They said the things that they have been unwilling to say for a long time, which is that they understand they need to build trust going forward,” he said.
Other members participating in the forum are:
- Council Member Radiant Cordero, Honolulu City Council (District 7)
- Dr. Kaeo Duarte, Chair, Hawaii Fresh Water Council
- Dr. Sylvia Hussey: Chief Executive Officer, Office of Hawaiian Affairs
- Rep Linda Ichiyama: State Representative (District 32)
- Fleet Master Chief David Isom, USN: Senior Enlisted Leader, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
- Ernie Lau, Manager and Chief Engineer, Board of Water Supply
- Kuhio Lewis, Chief Executive Officer, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement
- Jeff Mikulina: former CEO of Blue Planet Foundation, former Chapter President of Sierra Club
- Laurie Moore: Executive Director, Armed Services YMCA Honolulu
- Dr. Vassilis Syrmos: Vice President for Research and Innovation at University of Hawaii
- Rep Ryan Yamane: State Representative (District 37)
- Sen Donna Mercado Kim (District 14)
The next forum meeting is planned for January.
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