KHON2

Navy vs. Army water crisis lists add to victim frustration

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Army now says 24 military housing communities are impacted by the water crisis linked to the Navy’s fuel and water systems. That’s more than double the areas the Navy lists as affected by contamination. Always Investigating digs deeper into the discrepancy.

Officials say “impacted” or “affected” doesn’t mean “contaminated” — another mixed message atop conflicting maps and lists that grow by the day. People unable to use water in their homes for weeks share their frustrations with KHON2.

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For the 93,000 people on the Navy’s water system across the Pearl Harbor and surrounding-area section of Oahu, it’s not just their water that’s unclear. Whether their housing community is affected is in dispute depending on where you look.

The Navy as of today still shows just 11 areas on the list of “affected” areas, including Aliamanu and Red Hill where residents first raised alarms about the scent of fuel in their water last month.

“We still have a plethora of families coming in every day asking for help that are off the location of that map,” said Kate Needham with Armed Forces Housing Advocates. “We’ve been saying from the beginning that we probably think this is more widespread than anybody realizes.”

The Army’s list is more than twice as long as the Navy’s — 24 “impacted areas” as of today (also renamed Monday to say “impacted areas” instead of “affected areas”) with places as far away as Manana Housing, Pearl City Peninsula and now Iroquois Point added.

LEFT: Navy map as of 12/13/21 on its water-crisis website, still reflecting the “As of Dec. 6” date on the image; RIGHT: Army map KHON2 obtained, geographically showing all 24 “impacted areas” from its water-crisis website list as of 12/13/21

The maps show the stark difference, too — the Navy highlighting just a few zones, while an Army map KHON2 obtained shows a much wider scope when its impacted-area list is laid out geographically.

“Army families are kind of singing the Army’s praise right now,” Needham said, “And Navy families, Air Force families are kind of feeling a little left behind, they feel more confused still.”

Confused is how one Air Force spouse described their family. The live in the Marines’ Manana Housing and say the Navy water there made them sick but only the Army’s list acknowledges Manana.

“My question is what data does the Army have that the Navy doesn’t have? What are we doing?” the Manana resident said. “It’s so confusing and it makes you feel like a crazy person. I’m not making symptoms up. I have documentation, I went to the emergency room.”

KHON2 asked both the Navy and the Army, why the discrepancy?

“The Navy is taking prudent precautions to mark and alert all affected areas,” a Navy spokesperson said. “While we understand that the Army is reaching out to residents in all areas to provide support, this is not indicative of contaminated water.”

As for the Army? They said in a recent town-hall that the majority of tests are inconclusive or don’t detect pollutants, but people can self-certify an impact to get help and lodging benefits as a precaution. An army member asked a recent town-hall panel: “Are all affected areas contaminated?”

“No,” answered Brig. Gen. Kirk Gibbs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Testing is ongoing, flushing is ongoing but no, not all affected areas are contaminated….the big areas of concern that I focused on in my briefing are AMR and Red Hill.”

Yet the Army’s top doctor here — Maj. Gen. Michael Place of the 18th Medical Command — said better safe than sorry: “Regardless of the location, if you are in an affected area, certainly if you encounter symptoms having symptoms, you or a family member, you ought to assume it’s contaminated.”

“That means I’m not gambling with my family’s life, to ingest that water and then find out afterwards that somebody missed something,” said Robert Klinehoffer, a Pearl City Peninsula resident. “So until I see testing that proves that everything is free and clear, my wife and I are not going to be using it.”

Klinehoffer is a military civilian who, like other contractors, is in limbo for relief options.

Army illustrations make clear just how interconnected the whole Navy system is for water distribution. Even with two out of three wells shut down, the pipes still run like spiderwebs through the surrounding areas.

“It feels good, I think in some cases that the map is growing, because people are feeling like, what they’ve gone through is now being seen and what they’re saying is being justified,” Needham said. “But at the end of the day, people are livid because they are being told by people outside of the community that they’re crazy, or they’re being hysterical. And as every day passes, we find out just what our organization’s been saying the whole time: Nobody here is making this up. This is real.”

Nearly a week ago Hawaii’s congressional delegation called on Governor David Ige to ask President Biden to declare an emergency.

“The governor has not yet sent a request for a Presidential declaration,” Ige’s spokesperson told KHON2. “I don’t know whether he intends to. He’s working with the AG’s office on that.”

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“The decision regarding the declaration of a federal emergency rests with the federal government, which has preeminent responsibility and authority over this system, which is owned and operated by the U.S. Navy,” Ige’s spokesperson said. “We have been waiting for word from the AG’s office on what (if anything) a state emergency proclamation might accomplish in this situation.”

“I’m hoping that we can get that state of emergency declared so that all of the families are getting, you know, a broad set of care that is the same,” Needham said. “Families are starting to creep to the edge. They’re completely overwhelmed. They’re exhausted.”