Revisiting The Ongoing Red Hill Water Crisis in O’ahu | Crooked Media
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December 05, 2022
What A Day
Revisiting The Ongoing Red Hill Water Crisis in O’ahu

In This Episode

  • Today is election day in Georgia’s Senate runoff. Voters are headed to the polls to decide between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, in a race that could give Democrats an outright majority in the Senate.
  • This Wednesday marks one year since the state of Hawai’i ordered the U.S. Navy to defuel its Red Hill fuel facility, after thousands of gallons of jet fuel contaminated the local water supply. Keoni DeFranco, an O’ahu-based community organizer, joins us to discuss the ongoing fight to shut down the facility for good.
  • And in headlines: the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could undercut LGBTQ rights, authorities said a “targeted” attack on power substations over the weekend left thousands of people in North Carolina without electricity, and Michael Avenatti was sentenced to 14 years in prison for embezzlement.


Show Notes:



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Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Tuesday, December 6th. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What A Day coming to you on the holiday commonly known as Senator Raphael Warnock runoff Groundhog Day. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes. As a Georgia resident, I can confirm that Raphael Warnock has been running for office for about sixteen years straight at this point. This poor man. 


Tre’vell Anderson: This poor, poor man. [music break] On today’s show, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could weaken protections for LGBTQ people. Plus, ABC has pulled two Good Morning America co-hosts off the air as rumors swirl about their off camera relationship. 


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, as we’ve discussed a lot here on the show, today is Election Day in the runoff for Georgia’s Senate seat. Once again in one corner. We’ve got Raphael Warnock, an accomplished minister, scholar and community leader. In the other corner, we’ve got Herschel Walker, who is good at running on the football field and running from his kids, [laughter] runs from everything. And in the middle, we have Georgia voters who will decide the future of Congress, at least for the next two years. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Georgia voters, we are counting on you, especially because, as you all may remember, everything came down to Georgia in the 2020 fight for the Senate, too. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes, that was crazy. And after Senator Warnock and Senator Ossoff’s runoff wins in 2021, the Senate was split 50 voting with Democrats and 50 voting with Republicans, which gave Democrats the advantage, given that Vice President Harris was the tiebreaker, but this time, Warnock’s seat would give Democrats 51 votes, not just 50. This may make the Georgia runoff seem less important, since it’s not technically make or break. Democrats control the Senate no matter what, and now the Republicans control the House, which means only certain legislation will get in front of the Senate anyway. But it is worth noting that the Georgia race still matters a ton. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. And it’s not just about passing legislation, right? 


Josie Duffy Rice: It is not, in fact, one thing, among others that Warnock’s win would influence significantly is committees. So when the Senate is split 50/50. All committees reflect that, meaning that they are evenly split. But if Warnock wins, Democrats will get majorities on each committee, and that means an easier judicial nomination process, among other things. And it keeps Republicans from using all the tools they have to slow walk everything, including legislation, while giving Democrats more ability to do things like oversight investigations. Another reason this election matters, Manchin and Sinema. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm. With Warnock as the 51st Democratic senator, the two most frustrating and poorly dressed, I must say, Democrats in the Senate will have less power to water down Democratic priorities. And it’s good for them, too, right? Because it gives them a little cover. They no longer have to be worried about being the deciding vote. Joe Manchin doesn’t have to like lose sleep every night about what he’s going to tell his West Virginia constituents about voting. Right. They don’t have to be the deciding vote. If Warnock wins uh and that would be good news. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Okay. So how is it looking right now? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Pretty good. But I say that with a lot of caution, right. In fact, we like don’t totally know what it’s looking like yet. Early voting numbers were higher than ever, breaking three daily voting records. But keep in mind, that’s partially because the minimum number of early voting days was cut down by almost 70%. We used to have a minimum of 17 days to early vote. Now it is a minimum of five, thanks to Republican legislation. In total, though, about 1.8 million people voted during early voting, which is a pretty high number. But anything is possible, right? Early voting tends to favor Democrats, but day of voting could really go either way. So if you’re in Georgia, make sure to vote today. Make the time. Make the effort. Make the space. There is absolutely no guarantee that Warnock wins. And then I might be stuck with a senator who has yet to form a coherent answer to literally any question he’s ever been asked. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And this is who y’all want to make legislation? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Okay. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Like, y’all want him in the real Senate? Not just like the play senate? [laughter] It’s not good. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It is not. Thanks for that, Josie. Let’s turn now to a story we’ve covered on the show before out of Hawaii on the island of Oahu. Around this time last year, residents who live at a Navy base near Pearl Harbor fell ill after they noticed a foul smell in their drinking water. It turns out that petroleum oil, specifically jet fuel, had been leaking from the nearby Red Hill fuel storage facility into the area’s water supply for months. Hundreds of families were displaced from their homes as a result, and some people were even hospitalized after unknowingly drinking the contaminated water. To this day, some folks still report suffering from health issues because of it. 


Josie Duffy Rice: This Wednesday, December 7th, actually marks one year since the state of Hawaii formally ordered the Navy to defuel the facility. State officials have gone back and forth for several months to get the Navy to comply with the order. But it wasn’t until November of this year that the Navy finally began defueling the Red Hill tanks. 1 million gallons of fuel have been removed from the facility so far. Which sounds great until you realize that there are 104 million gallons left. An enormous, just unimaginable number. Officials say it’s going to take two more years to completely drain the tanks that sit just a hundred feet above one of Oahu’s biggest water sources. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And it’s not the most ideal solution, but the fact that the U.S. Navy was forced to take any kind of action on this is no small feat, and it would not have been possible without the native Hawaiian activists who have been organizing day in and day out ever since last year’s leak. Delegates from native led activist groups like the Oahu Water Protectors have even traveled to D.C. to protest outside of the White House in hopes of getting President Biden’s attention on the issue. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So to learn more about what this past year has looked like for activists on the ground and where things stand now, we are joined by Keoni DeFranco. He’s a community organizer who has worked with the Oahu Water Protectors, one of the main groups that has really been at the forefront of the fight to shut down Red Hill for good. Keoni, welcome to What A Day. 


Keoni DeFranco: Aloha, mai kakou. Thanks for having me. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So in the past, when we’ve covered this issue, we always start with how water is a particularly important part of native Hawaiian culture. As a native Hawaiian yourself, can you explain what the significance it has to you personally and how it informs your activism and the more general activism around Red Hill? 


Keoni DeFranco: Yeah, the uh the Kanaka Maoli lived for thousands of years in a regenerative, self-sustaining agricultural society, supporting a population of 1.2 million before Western contact. And so our society was designed around the watershed in a system called Ahupua’a, ensuring the water flowed uninterrupted from Mauka to Makai, mountain to ocean. As an island nation, preservation of water was and remains critical to our survival and is respected as such. Our name for Red Hill is Kapukaki. The word kapu, meaning sacred, is in there. Many of our sacred sites do hold life giving properties such as water, which is precisely why they are considered sacred. Ola I Ka Wai, translating into water is life has become a cry and protection of fresh water. We acknowledge a reciprocal relationship and dependency we have on ensuring our water source remains safe. Without water, there is no life. Another way to conceptualize this is Ola Ka Wai meaning, the water is alive. We do not stand in protection only because we rely on water to survive. But we stand as Kia’i guardians in protection of the existence of fresh water as an element. Because water has the right to exist and must be protected from contamination at all costs. Our word for wealth is wai wai, water water. A community is only as wealthy as its water source is clean. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s so interesting and such important context. Can you tell us a little bit about when you started getting involved with the Water Protectors and what what did your work look like during your time with them? 


Keoni DeFranco: For me, I was aware of the Red Hill spills in 2014, but it was really the spill last year when it became public in November that really hit home for me. Uh. My grandfather, a Kanaka Maoli, was a member of the military who was born and raised in Ewa, you know, devoted his career to service. It was very painful to have to speak with him about the Department of Defense poisoning his neighborhood, a place he gave his life to. So I really became involved intimately last fall. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Gotcha. So now you just mentioned the leak from last year. You also mentioned 2014 as kind of another year that was important in this overall journey dealing with the leaks. How long have there been leaks and other issues at Red Hill specifically that you’re aware of? 


Keoni DeFranco: Yeah. So the facility was built in the early 1940s. It wasn’t declassified until about 1999. My understanding of it now is that it has been an ongoing leak site since the very beginning. The facility itself has been corroded. I was in the facility earlier this year and, you know, just walking around, you can tell that this site had not been maintained well, we just had another discharge of toxic chemicals last Tuesday. We had an estimated 1300 gallons of AFFF, which is concentrated fire suppressant which spilled onto the floor of Red Hills Tunnel. And outside the entrance, AFFF contains PFAS, which is a forever chemical. You know, very small amount of this entering the water supply could have detrimental effects for multiple generations. And this has spilled all over the ground there. So, you know, this is the fourth discharge of toxic chemicals in just the last two years and just shows a worrisome trend if Red Hill has no plans to actually remove fuel until the end of 2024. 104 million gallons of fuel a hundred feet above our sole source aquifer is very concerning. Uh. We don’t want the Navy to rush, but activist groups such as Sierra Club have been ringing the alarm bells since 2014 uh and just really shows the level of incompetency of the Navy, their lack of disregard for life and the level of environmental pollution that they cause. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Definitely and you kind of hit on our next question, which is how has the community responded in particular to this last leak? 


Keoni DeFranco: Yeah, I mean, I would say that we’re we’re furious. I mean, you know, we need more transparency in this process where the water supply wasn’t alerted that there was a spill for six full hours. These are critical moments in which response needs to be coordinated. Red Hill is not the only leaking site in Hawaii. This is a [?] across island resistance against militarization that is occurring. Red Hill really is that symptom of imperialism that we as Kanaka and Kama’aina native Hawaiians and people of Hawai’i continue to struggle with, and it’s just unacceptable in Hawaii that we, you know, we have some of the most pristine and natural water sources, we’re facing a water crisis solely as a result of, at the end of the day, what is criminal negligence by an occupying military force that simply doesn’t have the right to be here in Hawaii.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, something just related to what you were just saying. We’ve talked on the show about how native Hawaiians have long called for the demilitarization of the islands because of incidents like Red Hill. Can you talk to us more about the legacy that the military presence has had on the islands and how removing it would be a major benefit to native Hawaiians? 


Keoni DeFranco: The US Navy’s legacy in Hawaii is 130 years ago, pulling into port in Honolulu, stepping off with guns and overthrowing our sovereign government, and backing a coup of American businessmen with the military presence. And what it’s led to is the destruction of our land, the displacement of our people. This has just been multigenerational trauma. What we demand is a process of deoccupation and demilitarization. I see this as a phase military withdrawal that leads to land back for Hawaiians. There’s always the question of if the military leaves Hawaii, then what? Whenever we’re told that U.S. leaving is a security risk, I I really say that’s really an illusion and a lie. The US military is the greatest threat to life in Hawaii. I don’t see other countries causing irreversible damage to our eco system, threatening the future of the life on our shores. You know what spilled last week, PFAS, if that enters our water supply, you would irreversibly destroy our aquifer forever. For our safety, demilitarization, deoccupation, land back, and sovereignty uh is what we’re dedicated to. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That was our conversation with Keoni DeFranco, a community organizer from Hawaii. We’ll link to more resources in our show notes so you can learn more about the work being done by local activists like him to shut down Red Hill. We’ll obviously keep following this story, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 




Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case that could undercut LGBTQ rights. It involves a Colorado graphic designer who wants to create custom wedding websites but won’t make them for same sex couples citing her religious beliefs. I just want to clarify here that she hasn’t even started designing wedding websites yet. But argues it’s her First Amendment right to only serve straight couples. Really putting the cart before the horse. [laughter] You don’t even do this yet. Colorado’s anti-discrimination and federal civil rights laws say businesses can’t turn away customers based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation. The right wing justices seem sympathetic to her argument, surprise, though the court’s three liberal justices hinted that the same rationale could be used to discriminate against other groups. Here’s what Justice Sonia Sotomayor said about that: 


[clip of Justice Sonia Sotomayor] How about people who don’t believe in interracial marriage? I’m not going to serve those people because I don’t believe Black people and white people should get married. 


Josie Duffy Rice: A ruling on the case is expected in June. 


Tre’vell Anderson: The stage has been set for a very special courtroom reunion because the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office just hired former Justice Department official Matthew Colangelo, who has experienced challenging Trump and his family business. This new hire signals that the Manhattan D.A. could ramp up its current investigations into Trump. And in a statement released yesterday, District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Colangelo will work on the, quote, “most sensitive and high profile white collar investigations.” Meanwhile, jurors began deliberating on the criminal tax fraud case against the Trump Organization yesterday. 


Josie Duffy Rice: As we sat down to record the show at 9:30 p.m. eastern, tens of thousands of people in central North Carolina are still without power after authorities said two electrical substations were damaged by gunfire Saturday night. Police have not announced any suspects or a possible motive, but they do believe it was a deliberate attack to damage those power facilities. The FBI has also joined the investigation. Officials on Sunday addressed rumors that it was an attempt to stop a local drag performance on Saturday. But so far, there is no concrete evidence that was the case. Meanwhile, technicians are working to restore power back to the area. But residents might not have their lights back on until Thursday. 


Tre’vell Anderson: One time presidential hopeful and the patron saint of guys accusing valet drivers of scratching their Range Rovers, Michael Avenatti was sentenced to 14 years in prison yesterday for embezzlement. Avenatti was also ordered to pay more than $10 million dollars in restitution. This all comes after he pleaded guilty earlier this year to stealing from four of his clients. Yesterday’s sentence is just the latest chapter in the epic tragedy of Avenatti. Four years ago, he was representing the adult actress Stormy Daniels against then-President Donald Trump. And he seemed to have the world in the palm of his imported leather gloved hands. But since then, he’s been charged with a series of white collar crimes, and he’s currently serving out a five year sentence for two of them. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And two people were unable to resist the natural aphrodisiac that is co-hosting a daily news show. Not us. But check back later. [laughter] I’m talking about T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, the hosts of the Good Morning America spinoff GMA3, who were put on temporary hiatus yesterday as their network, ABC News decided how to respond to allegations that they’d been engaged in a monthslong romantic affair. Page Six and U.K. tabloid The Daily Mail first exposed the perfect haired, perfect teethed tryst. Holmes and Robach are both married. Hence the scandal. But as two consenting adults, their alleged relationship doesn’t seem to violate company policy at ABC. So don’t expect the broadcaster to run the Try Guys playbook and edit the hosts out of all future shows. There could even be a benefit to having hosts who can’t do a story about a mom going missing on vacation without obviously flirting. According to one ABC staffer interviewed by Page Six, the relationship between Holmes and Robach makes for, quote, “ratings gold”. I believe it. I have not thought about Good Morning America this much in a really long time. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. I haven’t thought about it since Keke Palmer left. Um.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: So unfortunate for them. Also shout out to her. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: New mother to be. Um. I will agree with this anonymous ABC staffer that this is ratings gold. But–


Josie Duffy Rice: It is ratings gold. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –you know they took them off the air. So what does it matter now? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. We should just say it, tell everybody we’re getting married. That’s like [laughter] we’ll be number one. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You think so?


Josie Duffy Rice: I love it. [laughter] I’ll have a lot to explain to my husband, but that comes second. And those are the headlines. [music break] That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, buff out the scratch on your Range Rover and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading and not just all British tabloids like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


[spoken together] And let’s do this Georgia. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Don’t mess it up girl. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly. I don’t know how HR  is going to feel about me proposing to Tre’vell online. But [laughter] it’s called journalism baby. [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.