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Red Hill Underground Storage Fuel Tank Legislation Fails

Wayne Yoshioka

Local efforts to mandate more timely upgrades for the Navy’s Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility on O’ahu failed in the Legislature this session. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
EPA Southwest Region director, Jeff Scott

Senate Bill 2930 is dead.  It was never heard in the House Finance Committee and did not advance for a vote on the House Floor.  That leaves the 2015 Administrative Order on Consent intact and calls for a 20-year timetable to upgrade the Navy’s Red Hill facility.  Federal Environmental Protection Agency Southwest Region land division director, Jeff Scott, says the 20 underground storage tanks are exempt.


“The Red Hill -- what we call field constructed tanks – each the size of a 20-story building, are not required under the federal regulations to be double-walled.  The agency took a look at that and realized that it was so complex to figure out how to do double-walling for different kinds of field-constructed tanks of all different sizes, that it made more sense to kind of take a case-by-case approach.”


The EPA and state Department of Health are overseeing the Navy’s plans which include 6 fuel tank upgrade proposals with single and double wall containment with costs ranging from $10 million for each tank up to 250 million.  But, Rear Admiral Brian Fort, commander of Naval Region Hawai’i, says any proposal to shorten the timetable would be too complex and difficult for any contractor to complete.


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Rear Adm Brian Fort, commander, Naval Region Hawaii

“We’re up against a 2037 deadline.  So, when we hear things like, ‘Hey, we want you to do double-wall containment in 5 years.’ That’s just unrealistic.  I mean, it took 3 years to build the facility, drilling from the top down, 3-to-4 thousand workers, 24/7, minus December 7, 1941, and oh---by the way – the thing called the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t exist in the 1940s and the regulations we have today didn’t exist.”


The Navy is also considering moving the facility to another site adjacent to the present Red Hill location.  Board of Water Supply manager and chief engineer, Ernie Lau, led the fight for the double containment upgrade in five years but says the Navy’s relocation alternative is not much of an improvement to protect O’ahu’s drinking water.


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Ernie Lau (right), manager and chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply, is briefed by Naval Engineer Command, Capt Richard Hayes

“It’s actually a little further uphill but same location.  It’s still completely over the drinking water aquifer.  I guess one positive. It is not going to be a 75-year-old, World War II vintage facility once it’s built – it’ll be a brand new facility.  However, you know, it looks like the timeline to get it done is double – instead of 20 years, maybe 40 years.”


Meanwhile, the EPA, the Navy and Department of Health want to reach a decision before the end of this year to upgrade the first 3 tanks.  Health Department deputy director, Keith Kawaoka, says each step takes time.


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
State Department of Health deputy director, Keith Kawaoka

“I think the technical work is proceeding.  It’s a long process.  Even within the technical people they are frustrated.  They’re having a lot of debates and discussions, even within the regulator’s side.  But we figure the pace – it can always go faster – but we’re sacrificing the quality and the appropriate solution.”


For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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