Current Thoughts (Mostly Hawaii)

Hawai‘i’s Chernobyl

Blowing the traditional news out of the water – in this case, the COVID numbers, the variants and the various petty arguments that go on with our government officials, the Red Hill fuel leak and resulting water contamination at the Navy well has become the news to pay attention to the last couple of weeks.

In watching the developments, this writer has been looking for an angle that does not play into the general narrative of “the water source is polluted, we have to fix it”. Or “warnings about this has been going on for years about fuel storage underneath an aquafer.”

Both stories belay the fact that this event, feared by many, is one of those unfolding tragedies that will not just go away once the aquafer is repaired if it even can.

In thinking about how one should look at this situation, and how serious it could become over time, it may be best to look at, unfortunately, another uncontrollable disaster that destroyed a wide swath of land back in 1986.

Yes, we are talking about the explosion and meltdown of the Soviet nuclear reactor and the environmental and personal disaster that continues to unfold across the area north of Kyiv (Kiev) in Ukraine.

You may now think here “Stan, that is an exaggeration at best, hyperbole at worst”, and you may be right as the history of this event goes along. But for this time, let us look at two items of comparison that may make one think twice.

First, let us take a look at the facility itself. According to the website connected to the Commander, Navy Region Hawai‘i, the Red Hill fuel tanks are constructed with concrete and grout with a steel liner. The whole facility, all 20 tanks, was built in and around 1941 – 80 years ago this year.

150630-N-DT805-041
While political leaders are clamoring to make statements on the situation at Red Hill and the contamination of water from the tanks, one should know they have known about this for years, even going there. Here Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono is seen examining the tanks.
PC: “150630-N-DT805-041” by U.S. Pacific Fleet is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The navy decided to build the tanks in an area where the deepest of tanks in the hill is only 100 feet above the aquifer that feeds the navy residences in Red Hill. That well is part of a larger aquafer in the Hālawa area that feeds water to most of the eastern south shore of O‘ahu.

One thing that one should be concerned about is the amount of failsafe measures to assure that petroleum products that leak out of the tanks don’t affect the water source. This could have been done by double lining the tanks, or retrofitting the tanks with another layer. Nothing like that had happened, although it was talked about since the first incident in 2014.

This thinking was also done in the after-effects of the Chernobyl explosion in 1986.

If one watches the HBO series Chernobyl, there was a statement said during the hearings in which there was a very easy answer as to why there was no containment system put in place,

Judge Milan Kadnikov: Why?

Valery Legasov: Why? For the same reason, our reactors do not have containment buildings around them, like those in the West. For the same reason, we don’t use properly enriched fuel in our cores. For the same reason, we are the only nation that builds water-cooled, graphite-moderated reactors with a positive void coefficient. [pause] It’s cheaper.

So, the question that one should ask about the Red Hill facility is whether those who were in charge of the facility decided to press their luck and not implement containment construction to protect the aquifer. Did they decide not to ask Congress for appropriations because they wanted to solve the problem on the cheap? Did the navy decide not to ask because of the cost, knowing full well that an ecological disaster could happen if things go wrong (as it did)?

A second comparison between this event and Chernobyl has to do with how this will affect people who consumed laced water and is getting sick from it. Now the comparison is a little less equal because nuclear poisoning is a world worse than injecting aviation fuel.

However, the effects regardless of severity, are troubling at best, horrific at worse. Currently, the navy doctors who were at the December 2 press conference in which they said that everyone will recover from the effects of this poisoning. But according to the National Institutes of Health, in a paper they wrote about the effects of ingesting jet fuel, there are long term effects,

Chronic exposure to jet fuel has been shown to have adverse effects on human liver function, to cause emotional dysfunction, to cause abnormal electroencephalograms, to cause shortened attention spans, and to decrease sensorimotor speedThus, short-term exposure of mice to JP-8 jet fuel caused significant toxicological effects on the immune system, which were long-lasting and persistent. It appears that the immune system may be the most sensitive indicator of toxicological damage due to JP-8 exposure. Such long-term changes in immune status may have significant effects on the health of the exposed individual.

(JP-8 is a type of fuel that is used on jet planes, it is petroleum-based).

While in the mini-series Chernobyl they did show the effects of the nuclear poisoning of people it also said at the end, as a postscript,

Despite widespread accounts of sickness and death as a result of radiation, the Soviet government kept no official records of their fate… We will never know the actual human cost of Chernobyl. Most estimates range from 4,000 to 93,000 deaths. The official Soviet death toll, unchanged since 1987…is 31.

How many will eventually get sick from all this and how many will face long-term health problems from what is happening at Red Hill? Those questions, as well as others, need to be asked today, and tomorrow and all the other tomorrows until there is a full accounting. Because in the end, yes, this could have been Hawai‘i`s Chernobyl.

And the scary thought is, it could still be.

Postscript: As this article was being drawn up, the Navy announced it was temporarily suspending operations at the Red Hill fuel tanks.

Chopping up the islands

Every 10 years, the redrawing of Congressional, state legislative, and city/county council districts takes place after the report from the Census Bureau comes out, telling us how many people are in our country, among other data points.

Once those figures come out, at least for Hawaii, a redistricting commission is appointed to look over the numbers. For Hawaii, there are two different commissions. One is for the statewide offices (House, Senate, Congressional). Members to that are appointed by the current sitting state house chair.

Proposed reapportion map of Oahu. Note the combination of Mililani in District VII and how its merged into a larger area that includes Pearl City. Read on for a description.
PC City and County of Honolulu reapportionment commission website at Final Reapportionment Plan – Google Drive

For the counties, they have their appointment procedure of which (for Honolulu) councilmembers in the 9 districts appoint one person each to be on the county commission.

And then they get to work. Most times it’s filled with very little fanfare, at least until the maps come out. And by this humble writer’s recollection, even when that happens, it’s typically a sleeper of an announcement that elicits a little fanfare.

This year’s maps, though, are starting to attract more interest than typical. Over the past month, both the statewide and county commissions have come out with proposed maps that, in some cases, radically change the electoral landscape of both state and county districts. From the merging of Mililani and Mililani Mauka and then shifting all of that area to the council district that overseas Pearl City; to the obliteration of a house district in Manoa, dividing up like how Germany was divided after World War II.

Needless to say, there are going to be more people looking at their ballots next year wondering “eh, my rep (or councilmember) is not on the ballot, what’s up?” Or to several people “eh, why am I voting for a council member again when I just voted for one or two years ago”.

So what is going on? Well, unlike some other places in the country in which extreme gerrymandering takes place, manipulating the district lines to exclude a voting block in a more traditional area while keeping to limits on population in a district and keeping the one-man, one-vote rule alive, that is not what is happening in Hawaii.

Several reports and anecdotal stories told to this writer tell me that powerful individuals who have their power plans are influencing moves that lead to the redrawn maps. For instance, it’s been said that House Speaker Scott Saiki is influencing the redrawing of districts of those house members that are in the minority.

In some cases, the redrawing of House districts will force incumbents in current districts to move houses to another area that would be part of the new district. These moves have more the feel of one gang who has more power over a neighborhood making moves on smaller gangs, to take over their turf.

The voters, of course, are the victims of moves like this. But it seems that those making these choices don’t particularly care about what the voters think or feel over all this.

As for the county lines, in Honolulu at least, there has been an enhanced, if still subtle, level of drama in the redrawing of lines. Unlike house and senate districts, where redistricting automatically requires all seats to go up for election after the lines are drawn, Honolulu City Council seats have staggered terms – even-numbered districts are voted on one election cycle; odd-number is done two years later. Because of that, any redistricting will move voters from one district to the other and will either force a new councilmember choice or keep voters from voting for another two years, the councilmember of the district they have just been assigned to.

Mililani, which was lands owned by Castle and Cooke as sugar plantation areas, was redeveloped starting in the late 1960’s into what is now Mililani. A spur of this land to the east formed Mililani Mauka, which is now joined in a new redistricting for the Honolulu City Council
PC: Pineapple fields in Mililani Town, 1973. Photo by Charles O’Rear. from PINEAPPLE FIELDS IN MILILANI TOWN. PINEAPPLE GROWERS HAVE BEEN DEVELOPING “SURPLUS LAND” SINCE 1958. OF A PROPOSED… – NARA – 553697 – Mililani, Hawaii – Wikipedia

In some cases, large swaths of the island are about to experience this. Take for instance the Mililani area of Oahu. Situated in the middle of the island between the Koolau and Waianae mountain ranges, the community has grown over the last fifty years to be one of the key suburbs of Honolulu.

The community grew so much that it expanded eastward in the 1980s creating an area called “Mililani Mauka”. When that community got established, it was placed in a separate council area than that of Mililani proper. So by just crossing the freeway, you would move from one council district to another, complete with a different councilmember, and their focus.

In the most recent hearings to determine new district lines, there were a few people who advocated for the merging of Mililani Mauka and Mililani. Not settled with that, then there was a call to take the entire area and have the district represented by the Pearl City district rather than the north shore district.

It was a radical move just by merging, it fundamentally changes the nature of the entire district by moving it from the north shore to Pearl City. With this move, an entire swath of Mililani proper will not only need to vote again for a new council member representing the area but also take into account the fact that it will need to compete for its attention to the Councilmember against a more established, larger area of Pearl City.

See how that works? And see how it will change the nature of an area?

With the maps drafted, the public outreach period has started at both the state and county levels. Keep in mind those who attend will get their chance to say their piece. And those who don’t, well, they will live with whatever is decided.

She is right

Over a weekend, a message is circulating on social media that Honolulu City Councilwoman Andrea Tupola spoke on Instagram. 

It was the verbal reading of a letter she sent to the Mayor of Honolulu, Rick Blangiardi, asking him, in essence, to end the emergency decrees over COVID-19, and return the power of management of it to the Honolulu City Council. 

You can hear the entire piece here

Although there are a lot of people who have a lot to say about Councilwoman Tupola’s decision not to be vaccinated, she puts that to the side and discusses, instead, the core issue of our government’s actions. The fact remains, regardless of whether you are vaccinated or not, the proclamations are still imposed by a small group of people, with very little input by the public, of which they then don’t have a choice of whether to follow it or not. 

And protesting, as you can see, doesn’t do much to move the needle in this town. So here is the transcript from Tupola’s Instagram post.

A note to the reader: Citings of Hawaii Revised Statutes are hyperlinked so that you can look at the wording for yourself.

I wanted to read this letter to you. We had a meeting in the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee and I laid out potential steps that we could take for a multi-pronged approach moving forward. So that we don’t need to live under any more emergency orders, and this is the letter I addressed to the Mayor. 

I thanked him for his willingness to meet with me over many, many months of us deliberating about what to do in the city. It is actually been one year, 7 months, and 18 days since the first Proclamation was issued on March 4, 2020. And since then 84 different County Emergency Proclamations have been issued. And the way that they have been issued has hindered our ability as council members to represent our communities because there is no public input. There’s no hearings. Not on the emergency proclamations. And somebody could argue that the rules under these orders have been confusing at times, contradictory, and sometimes arbirary. 

For example, what’s the difference between a luau and a wedding? Why do we continue to restrict restaurants at 50% capacity if they are complying with vaccinations and testing requirements? Why are we even restricting any spectators outdoors at sporting events when it’s been done safely nationwide? How are we determining what is the imminent threat? That is requiring the ongoing use of proof? Which needs to be actually addressed per HRS 127A-14

How are we defining the threat or mitigating that threat per HRS 127A-18? The purpose of these rules in the beginning, was to decrease the spread of COVID-19, but some of the unintended consequences have been confusion, division at the expense of substantial city resources and personnel. 

I recognize the efforts of the mayor in trying to address community members. However there are still constituents of ours asking for a reprieve, wanting to know timelines of how they can keep their jobs. Given the prolonged state of emergency, I am requesting the city administration delegate and confer authority back to the legislative body per HRS 127A-11. And if needed, in conjunction with the Department of Emergency Management, the Department of Emergency Services, if we need to establish rules moving forward. These powers should be rightfully restored to the public through their representatives. 

I am respectfully asking that you not extend or issue any additional emergency orders relating to COVID-19 without seeking community input through the Honolulu City Council.

We are clearly moving into the next phase, and we need a multi-prong approach, moving forward. We now have very high vaccination rates, widespread community testing, monoclonal antibody treatments, companies helping with quarantining cleaning and rapid response teams going out to homes, providing education, support and delivery services. Immediately to people who test positive for COVID. The city plane should consolidate its effort and organize rapid response teams that can immediately provide this support, sanitation services, nasal irrigation, pulse oximeters, vitamins, information on what to do immediately when you test positive for COVID before it becomes severe. Way before hospitalizations. Other countries have used this method of response to bring their case counts down to zero. 

We choose when this pandemic ends.

States have used three tools to end the pandemic. One the administration can decide no imminent threat. Two they can let the emergency orders expire. Three they can have a legislative vote. It is contrary to our democracy for any one individual to have unilateral authority to suspend the laws indefinitely for over a hear and a half without a mechanism for public input and review. Similar to the ARPA federal funds by distributing these singular decision-making powers from your administration to the nine City Council Members. The decisions will be made in collaboration with agencies, and we can move forward together as a team. Ultimately, it is time to restore power back to the people. 

Andrea Tupola, Councilwoman, Honolulu City Council October 22, 2021
Inside Honolulu Hale
The Honolulu City Council at Honolulu Hale is on the third floor of the building, the same floor as the Mayor’s and Managing Director’s office.
PC: “Inside Honolulu Hale” by coconut wireless is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Tim Pool (on YouTube)

Pod Save America (on YouTube)

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The Atlantic

CNBC

Civil Beat (Hawaii on-line newspaper)

Honolulu Star Advertiser (mostly paywalled, but you get free headlines)

Beat of Hawaii (Tourism based news source from Kauai)

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