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Holding the Navy accountable on closing Red Hill

Posted on Oct 3, 2022 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main

State lawmakers toured the Navy’s Red Hill facility.

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility sits 100 feet above O‘ahu’s sole-source groundwater aquifer, which supplies 77% of the island’s drinking water. In late 2021, the release of an estimated 14,000 gallons of fuel and water from a pipeline about one-quarter mile from the tanks led to contamination of the Navy’s drinking water system, impacting 93,000 users and raising grave concerns about the broader impact on the aquifer.

Governor Ige and the Department of Health took unprecedented action to protect residents and the environment. DOH, in conjunction with federal regulators, worked for months to oversee the restoration of safe drinking water. In December 2021, DOH issued an Emergency Order requiring the U.S. Navy to suspend operations, treat the contaminated water and drain the fuel tanks. The Navy objected to the state’s Emergency Order for months in administrative proceedings and in court. Finally, on March 7, 2022, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that the Department of Defense will defuel and permanently close the Red Hill facility. At press time, DOH is reviewing a revised plan from the Navy to defuel the tanks by July 2024. DOH director Dr. Libby Char emphasized, “We have a real sense of urgency about the fuel sitting in these large storage tanks, and we want to remove that risk of contamination of our aquifer as safely and expeditiously as possible.”

Governor Ige has said the naming of Rear Adm. John Wade to lead a Joint Task Force for Red Hill is an important step in focusing efforts. The U.S. Pacific Fleet’s own investigations revealed a long list of operational and leadership failures, communication breakdowns, and lack of oversight of the fuel facility over the years. As reported in a June 30 Honolulu Civil Beat article, Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said, “The Navy was wrong to say that it (Red Hill) was safe. That is clearly evident in the outcome.”


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