Pearl Harbor munitions depot expansion concerns residents

HONOLULU — A U.S. military plan to expand a Pearl Harbor munitions depot has raised concerns there has not been enough information released to the public, considering that the depot was the site of a massive and deadly explosion 76 years ago.

A 1944 explosion at the Navy’s West Loch Annex left 163 men dead and nearly 400 wounded in what is considered Pearl Harbor’s second-worst disaster in terms of fatalities, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

A draft environmental assessment describes a new Army munitions storage complex at the annex within Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The project would be built in several phases beginning in 2022.

The complex would house 35 storage magazines and a range of support structures, enabling the relocation of existing Army munitions operations at Lualualei Annex in Waianae.

The Navy is also building a new munitions facility at West Loch with 24 magazines to store Navy ordnance. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii awarded Nan Inc. a $33 million contract last month to build the magazines by September 2022.

Some community members said the public needs to be better informed about the work.

“The plan contains too much uncertainty and undisclosed materials,” Poka Laenui of the Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs said. “The public is unable to effectively participate in this process or to condone an action which it does not understand.”

A full environmental impact statement should be conducted, Laenui said.

“I think they should put this on pause,” said Will Espero, a former state senator from Ewa Beach who is running for Honolulu City Council. “A lot of people don’t know about this.”

Ewa Beach historian John Bond said he believes a large area of western Oahu could be vulnerable to an accident.

“There are very major impacts to the Ewa/West Oahu community, and there have been no hearings or presentations made for the public to understand what is going to happen literally in their backyards,” Bond said.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command issued a statement saying the project would “improve safety by providing state-of-the-art magazine storage and significantly reducing the movement of ordnance on Oahu roadways.”

The statement added: “The safety of community residents is of the utmost importance, and explosive safety is calculated with extreme care and scrutiny.”

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