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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Navy fights state order to shut down and empty Red Hill fuel tanks

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Navy is fighting the state’s order to shut down the Red Hill storage fuel tanks and remove all of the fuel.

That revelation led to a hearing being postponed Tuesday.

Gov. David Ige told Hawaii News Now that he expected the Navy to contest the state Health Department’s emergency order.

He also said the Navy has not been forthcoming about its activities at Red Hill until this past week when families started to complain of illness.

A look at the map the Navy released to stakeholders shows impacted areas from Red Hill to Aliamanu Military Reservation, military housing in Mapunapuna and part of the Hickam base.

Ige says he informed Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro Monday the order was coming to cease operations and remove the fuel in the storage tanks at Red Hill.

But the secretary appeared to dismiss state’s authority.

“It’s not an order,” Del Toro told the media. “It’s a request and we are taking that very seriously and engaging a series of conversations before I decide to take actions.”

Ige said he decided to issue the order is because “clearly we have fuel in the water system.”

He added, “It is isolated to Red Hill, but we want to make sure that there is no further action taken that could increase the contamination that’s occurring.”

The order lists the history of issues.

In January 2014, there was a fuel leak of 27,000 thousand gallons.

Then in 2020, there were two spills into Kilo Pier from Red Hill.

In 2021, there were three spills. The biggest was Nov. 20, where 14,000 gallons of water and fuel were released from a fire suppression drain line in the tunnel downhill of the Bulk Fuel Storage Tanks.

Seven days later, on Nov. 27, the Navy quietly stopped moving fuel from the tanks.

The next day, military families started complaining of an oily sheen and fuel smells in the water,

“I was not aware that they had stopped the movement of fuel until the meetings that happened yesterday,” Ige said.

“Communications has improved significantly over the last few days. It was very difficult a week ago, for example, to get data from the Navy. We had been asking for testing data,” he added.

The Navy insists it’s been as transparent as possible.

“We did not know there was problem in the water in the days leading up. Our first indication were the complaints that we received from individuals in military residences,” said Rear Adm. Blake Converse, who is deputy commander of US Pacific Fleet.

Another reason the Navy may have resisted closing Red Hill, according to Civil Beat, is because a 2018 study found that building a new jet fuel facility to replace the aging tanks could cost up to $10 billion.

It’s unclear where the dispute will go from here.

Copyright 2021 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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