There is no doubt that water is important but sometimes we take it for granted thinking it will always be there. Like petroleum, one day fresh water will become a scarce resource. We assume that the artesian wells that provide Oahu's fresh water will continue to be productive but ever since they've been tapped, in the 1940's, the levels have been decreasing. I recently got a chance to revisit the Board of Water Supply's Halawa Pumping Station since the last time was quite a while ago. Things haven't changed much. The trolley that takes you down the shaft still reminds me of a carnival ride. What is amazing is the fresh water that sustains all of us resides in pools deep in the earth. The system that replenishes this supply is well understood. But as the demands on these water resources grow, whether it be population growth or development, you can see the water levels drop from the 1940s to present. In addition to increased water usage there are the threats due to contamination. A recent revelation was the fuel storage facility located on Red Hill. These large containers of jet fuel are leaking and pose a threat to the Moanalua wells. Discussions for a remedy are ongoing between the BWS and Navy as this site visit might indicate, but it is still unclear what the solution is and a proposed settlement is still forthcoming. This will become an issue if not already. You can familiarize yourself with this project by reviewing the Administrative Order on Consent and the Statement of Work along with an archive of supporting documentation I helped to produce in collaboration with the Board of Water Supply.
July 20th was the deadline for public comment on the Red Hill Fuel Tank Administrative Order. The EPA and State Dept of Health sought feedback from the public regarding the fuel tank storage tanks and plans to minimize the fuel leaks from the tanks. It is now up to the EPA and DOH to decide whether or not to sign the Administrative Order on Consent with the U.S. Navy to make it effective or to modify it base on information received during the public comment period. The Board of Water Supply released the following comments and a summary of the comments on July 20, 2015:
- Summary of the Board of Water Supply's Comments on the Proposed Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) and Attachement A, Statement of Work (SOW) on the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (July 20, 2015)
- Board of Water Supply Comments on the Proposed Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) and Attachement A, Statement of Work (SOW) on the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (July 20, 2015)
It was almost two years ago when I got a chance to ride the Admiral's Barge in the vicinity of the Sea Based X-Band Radar or SBX. From the water it was huge but from land it seemed even bigger. For the past two years, every time I'd see the SBX sail? cruise? float? into town I would put my request into the Navy to see if I could bring on a group. I got pretty close late last year in 2011. Some emails went back and forth and the stars began to align. Then in early 2012 North Korea decided to launch their "communications" satellite. The next thing I notice, the SBX is gone. So when the SBX docked at Ford Island this past May, I reactivated by email thread and started the discussion again. Thanks to the Commander Navy Region Hawaii and the Missile Defense Agency, our request was granted. I assembled about a dozen interested social networkers, bloggers, photogs, videographers and tech enthusiasts to take part in this rare opportunity. Lt. Colonel Steve Braddom, Product Manager for the SBX, explains the size of the vessel in comparison to USS Nimitz air craft carrier. The SBX is about as high and wide as the Nimitz but about 1/3 the length. Climbing the 151 steps up to the deck was quite the experience and does give you a sense of its height. One of the interesting features of the SBX is the radome or what appears to be the big "golf ball" sitting on top of the platform. It is basically a huge balloon made of "high-tech synthetic fabric," filled with air at a pressure that keeps it inflated. Depending on the wind conditions the pressure is adjusted accordingly. It is reported that the radome can sustain wind speeds of 130 miles per hour. What is inside that radome is what piques my interest. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any recording devices into the radome to take pictures of the X-band phase array radar. Lt. Col. Braddom did say we could reference the photo below from the Missile Defense Agency's Flickr account. This is basically what we saw. It is quite impressive. The rotates enabling the radar to move 360 degrees. It is also able to tilt from this vertical position to a horizontal one. The original home base of the SBX was Adak, Alaska but for various reasons, one of which is fuel costs, whenever the SBX isn't in the waters off Asia, it's docked at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Apparently, Pearl Harbor's central location to the Pacific Region is big factor in attracting the SBX. Enjoy some of the posts from our band of tech geeks:
- Ryan Ozawa - Journey to the SBX
- Todd Ogasawara - Photos from a visit to the Missile Defense Agency's Sea-Based X-Band Radar Vessel
- Dallas Nagata-White - Facebook photo set
- Ricky Li - Facebook photo set
National Wildlife Refuge. I've assembled some of my favorite photos but you can see the entire set here. Midway is now home to some 18 species of birds. There are literally millions of albatrosses distributed somewhat evenly across every square meter of land. You cannot turn around without an albatross standing in your way. As we drove around in our golf carts, our island hosts were careful to go around the birds that claim the road as their nesting area. During the free time we had on island, I was able to commandeer a bicycle to ride around the entire island. Every where I turned nature dominated, from the terns and tropic birds in the air to the monk seals and turtles on the shore. If you stopped and listened you could not help but hear the cacophony of nature, pulsing with life. I found myself taking deep breaths all the time in order to absorb as much of this feeling as possible. It is hard to put into words. The life I saw there was abundant but it was not all joyous. With so many chicks, parent albatrosses are challenged to find enough food for their young. As many as 50% of the chicks we saw there won't make it to adulthood. On a hot day in June I saw many chicks that died from dehydration and malnutrition. But that is the reality of nature. Some will make it and many won't. But even in that sad realization I never felt so alive. It's testament to the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the natural habitat of Midway has recovered so nicely and preserved for future generations. The island personnel seemed genuinely responsible for the natural health of the island but the battle still rages on to maintain the natural habitat. One major undertaking is the removal of an invasive weed called Verbesina. This weed has taken over large portions of land area threatening bird nesting grounds. The USFWS also has plans to mitigate the non-native plants like iron wood and conduct plantings of native plants. There has already been an eradication of rats. As night fell we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The albatrosses skimmed over the surface of the ocean looking for their evening meal. No sooner did we arrived, then we had to leave. Again in the darkness of night, waiting for the birds to settle and clear the runway. As tired as I was I felt energized. We arrived back in Honolulu about 1am. I look back at these photos and I feel like it was a dream but it wasn't. I am just glad I got to experience Midway and feel encouraged that the work being done there will protect it for the future.
This past Monday, June 4, 2012 marked the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway. It was a major sea and air battle that marked the turning point in our war with Japan back in 1942. I was fortunate to be invited by the U.S. Navy, Pacific Fleet to attend the commemoration ceremonies on Sand Island, one of the main atolls in Midway. This interview with Adm. Cecil D. Haney, Commander of the Pacific Fleet took place at the grand opening of the Midway Atoll Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. You can listen to the interview here and read along to the transcript of the interview:
Bytemarks: I know Dan (Nakaso) asked you the same question and I wanted to get an idea direct from you and I didn't want to steal his quote. As far as the Navy supporting and commemorating Midway on a going forward basis, how important do you see this as being something that would be recognizing going forward? Adm. Haney: I think throughout my history we have always commemorated the battle of Midway and that will continue going forward because it is such a unique and part of our rich heritage and what we've all learned from. When you look at things of what we've learn from Navy aviation and celebrate it's 100 year anniversary, what we learned from code breaking and operational intelligence, how we've used it to our advantage and how we learned and even without the technology... it's really about the people their courage, their commitment and bravery that makes a difference as we fight wars tomorrow, when and if deterrence arise. Bytemarks: But each year there will be less and less people that have a connection with Midway you will always try to find their relatives or find some kind of connection to the people that fought here? Adm. Haney: What I find interesting even here although we only have two members that fought in the battle, the two veterans, we have a number of siblings, we have a number of kids, their fathers have fought in the battle. I thing that legacy will live on in itself in terms of people, not just us reaching out them but them reaching out to us as we continue to do celebrations in the future. Bytemarks: Do you think Midway has any Defense signification going forward? Adm. Haney: When you say Defense significance you mean... Bytemarks: I guess national security significance. Adm. Haney: I think as you look around here you will see Midway has transform itself from the base it was to a very tranquil wildlife environment. I am very thankful it has in that regard. Quite frankly it is a unique island strategically located and it did is job in World War II in terms of being a very strategic asset for us. We were able able to keep it as a result of the efforts of the Battle of Midway and quite frankly I am just as grateful to see its condition and where it is today. Bytemarks: It is really a nice preserve/reserve. I think it would be great to continue to recognized it as a turning point militarily and it such a natural reserve for the native life and native plant life. I think it is testament to how it has evolved over time. Adm. Haney: Very much so. I think when you look at this as a refuge, a wildlife refuge, just the whole business of its history, this building we are standing in here which gives you that. it really tells you that what we in the United States of America, what we in the United States military are all about and it's maintaining the peace. So to me this is nothing but success and it should be celebrated. Bytemarks: Thank you very much. Adm. Haney: Thank you.
Last week the BRP Gregorio del Pilar of the Philippine Navy had a brief stop at Pearl Harbor. It was en route from the Coast Guard's Alameda Island in Northern California on its way to Manila, Philippines. The 378-foot Hamilton-class Weather High Endurance Cutter, which was recently obtained by the Philippine government under the United States’ Foreign Sales Military Program to boost the country’s capability to patrol its territorial waters in the disputed South China Sea. The ship was originally commissioned as the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton in 1967. The trip from Hawaii will take an estimated three-weeks to voyage to Manila with a planned stop over in Guam. The BRP Gregorio del Pilar is the biggest ship ever to be acquired by the Philippine Navy can stay at sea for 45 days without refueling. It was an historic docking in Pearl Harbor since the Philippine Navy would rarely be in Hawaii's waters. I asked the Deputy Consulate General Paul Cortes why purchase this "old" Coast Guard ship and not a new ship like the Japanese DDG Atago class destroyer that was here last year during RimPac. His answer to me was a lesson in geopolitical diplomacy. He told me that the Philippine Navy's primary role is to protect the Philippine borders and patrol the waters surrounding the Philippine Islands. In particular are the disputed Spratly Islands which are claimed by the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei. To put things in perspective, the Philippines call the waters the West Philippine Sea and the Chinese call it the South China Sea. Tensions continue to build between China and the Philippines as it was reported that the Chinese Navy recently opened fire on Filipino fisherman. I am not a diplomat but it became clear to me that maintaining a balance with a neighbor like China can be a very delicate matter. Cortes said that a refurbished Coast Guard vessel like the Hamilton portrays a much different message than perhaps an Aegis class destroyer like the USS Chung Hoon. I suddenly had a great appreciation for humility and not provoking the sleeping tiger. The ship, with Captain Alberto Cruz at the helm, is considered a multi-mission vessel and will be capable of operations such as search and rescue, maritime security patrols, and maritime law enforcement. To gain more insight into this new addition to the Philippine Navy, read Jasmine Deborah's excellent interview with Commander Reynaldo Lopez. Also much better photos than mine were taken by Dallas Nagata-White, Gabriel Yanagihara, Jonas Maon and Ricki Li.
The University of Hawaii (UH) and the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines the two organization's collaborative efforts to improve and solve sustainability and resiliency issues in the Asia Pacific region. The three signatories of the MOU were UH President M.R.C. Greenwood, Adm. Robert F. Willard, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command and UH Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw. Both Admiral Willard and President Greenwood admitted when the group first got together in January 2011, both organizations were apprehensive about how this relationship would take shape, if at all. Historically the relationship between the University of Hawaii and the U.S. military has seen it's ups and downs. President Greenwood said, "We are the two most influential and powerful institutions in the State of Hawaii, and yet we have not found the ways and connections to work together." But as a result of the conference in January, the two groups were able to craft a framework for an ongoing partnership. Colleagues commented later to Greenwood that this should have been done a long time ago. The MOU identified three key area for immediate focus: Energy, Water and Disaster Management. Some of near term partnering areas include:
- Examine implementing alternative energy sources for PACOM installations and on certain humanitarian assistance projects;
- Leverage UH capability and training to complement and support PACOM roles in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief work around the region;
- Build on UH and PACOM capabilities in a variety of water projects, particularly leveraging interests in the lower Mekong;
- Define partnership projects in some aspect of ocean fisheries and maritime security.
That image to the right is not the Admiral's Barge. It's the Sea-Based X-band Radar or SBX. But had it not been for Rear Admiral Dixon Smith and his "Barge", I would have been able to get this close up view. The SBX is one of those vessels you see out of the corner of your eye as you drive on H-1 past Pearl Harbor. It's distinctive appearance cannot escape the golf ball comparisons. You'd have to have a pretty big club to whack that puppy, but I digress. Seeing the SBX does make you think: 1. What is it? and 2. How does it float? The simple answer to 1. is it's a big floating radar. The SBX, part of the DOD's Missile Defense Agency , has a mission is to patrol the Pacific and monitor rouge countries like North Korea. I started to see SBX float into Pearl Harbor a couple years ago ever since North Korea got more active with their ballistic missile tests with claims of having the capabilities to send one all the way to Hawaii. Which brings me to question number 2. The radar system is build on a Russian designed platform originally used for oil rigs. In this photo you can see the huge floats that the main structure stands on. The SBX supports a crew of about 80 personnel. That flat platform you see extending from the main deck is the helicopter landing area. I wondered how people access this vessel once out at sea and that platform was pointed out to me. Now getting back to the Admiral's Barge, I (and a few other guests) got invited by Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs to join Rear Adm. Dixon Smith and his wife Kiki on an afternoon cruise around Pearl Harbor and Ford Island. Besides my wife and I, guests includes Henry Kapono and his wife, Mark Platte (Hawaii News Now) and his wife and Agnes Tauyan (Navy Region Hawaii, Public Affairs) and her husband. The main destination was the Arizona Memorial which I had visited once before decades ago. It was quite a humbling experience to stand in the Memorial atop the sunken USS Arizona where more than a thousand men gave their lives. We cruised up along side the USS Missouri and docked a the Arizona Memorial to spend a few moments to honor those fallen soldiers. The time there was special since the last tour group had already exited leaving the entire Memorial to the 10 of us. The cruise continued around Ford Island, along the NOAA docking, then past Hospital Way on the Hickam AFB side of Pearl Harbor and finally back to Merry Point in the Southeast Loch. I overheard in conversation, it looks like the NOAA offices, currently spread around O`ahu will consolidate on Ford Island sometime in the near future. Sounds like a good thing since their big ships are located there. The bustle of maritime activity in Pearl Harbor never ceases to amaze.
The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is just one of 32 vessels in Hawaii for the Rim of the Pacific exercises held every two years. My run on Sunday morning takes me along Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. I shot this photo from the Visitor Center area. It is pretty amazing how many ships are in the Pearl Harbor lochs. I've never seen air craft carriers double parked before. At the press conference on Monday, June 28, 2010, Vice Admiral Richard Hunt talked about how the first RIMPAC in 1971 was focused on "blue water" exercises. In 2010, the focus is on the littoral. (Wikipedia: The littoral zone refers to that part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore.) In this case the waters off the islands. I suspect Bellows will be a site of some of the littoral exercise during these coming weeks. The Navy has newly designed vessels specifically for littoral operations. The USS Freedom is one such vessel participating in RIMPAC 2010. Another is the RSS Supreme from Singapore. The RSS Supreme is part of the Formidable class stealth frigate. If you look at the surface of this vessel you can see the patchwork of radar absorbing panels. It almost looks like it is padded. The RSS Supreme was parked right next to the DDG Atago from Japan. The Japanese brought two ships, the DDG 177 Atago and the DD 108 Akebono. These two ships were double parked right next to each other. I would have loved to be on the ship when they did that maneuver. The DDG Atago is based on the Arleigh-Burke (Aegis) destroyer design but manufactured by Mitsubishi of Japan. I find it interesting that the show Ryomaden, currently airing on KIKU-TV is a story about Ryoma Sakamoto told by Iwasaki Yataro, founder of Mitsubishi. The show goes into good detail about Yataro's humble beginnings as a bird cage peddler and his ambitions as a businessman. I wonder what he would have thought if he knew someday his company would be furnishing the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) with high tech destroyers based on a US design. I am sure it would have blown his mind. The tour of the DDG Atago was relatively quick but we did get to visit the bridge, deck and officers dining room. I did notice one thing, that ship was the cleanest ship I have every been on. Everything sparkled, even the propeller on the life boat. Today the DDG Atago participated in a anti-piracy inspection drill. If you are interested in more photos of the DDG Atago you can view this set.