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Military family cautious to return home, and a Big Island resident recalls her father's Red Hill legacy

(Jan. 26, 2018) A tunnel inside of the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)
Shannon Haney/Naval Supply Systems Command Fle
U.S. Navy
(Jan. 26, 2018) A tunnel inside of the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)

Military families welcomed the news that the Department of Defense will permanently shut down the Red Hill fuel tanks. We checked back in with a military mom who has been willing to share her experience throughout these past four months that her family has been displaced.

She had been reluctant to let us use her name and still is but she was pleased to hear of the DOD decision. Moving is not really a realistic option for her as her husband is deployed and she has pets and a young child. But her story as a Navy spouse is like many others.

She is still apprehensive about moving back home which is now expected to happen next week if the state Health Department validates the results from the flushing in her neighborhood. Of the 19 zones, there are about 12 more to go.

The Conversation also hears from another woman who decades ago came over as part of a family whose military ties to Red Hill run deep.

Lynn Boerner Nakkim came to Hawaiʻi as a child when her father, a tunnel engineer, was hired to build Red Hill. The Punahou graduate has long carved out a life on the Big Island. Her brother, Chuck, is an organic farmer who lives in Maui.

Nakkim is in her 80s now and predates the facility. We first talked with her last week as part of a history show on the construction of the tanks. She made the point that her dad had nothing to do with choosing to build the tanks so close to the aquifer. His job was to build it and he was proud of the job that was completed nine months ahead of schedule.

The recent headlines have triggered a flood of memories of her dad’s work. Nakkim says she’s been an environmental activist all her life, having served as president of the Friends of the Earth in Hawaiʻi and active for many decades with the Sierra Club. That position put her at odds with one of her dad’s projects. She shared her thoughts recalling the day her dad received an award for his work as the Red Hill facility was made public for the first time.

This segment originally aired on The Conversation on March 9, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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