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Navy's Proposed Fuel Tank Upgrades Get Cold Reception, Health Officials Seek Tougher Standards

A public meeting is scheduled next month on the U.S. Navy's proposed upgrades to its Red Hill fuel facility while a separate gathering is planned later this year on rule changes that would toughen standards for underground storage tanks.

The first meeting, scheduled by the state Department of Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the Navy's proposal, is set for 6 p.m., Nov. 19, at Moanalua Middle School.

The Navy is proposing upgrades of single-wall tanks with safeguard measures such as leak monitoring. But the proposal has been described as inadequate by the environmental group Sierra Club of Hawaii and a Honolulu City Council committee has called for rejection of the Navy's plan. 

Last week, representatives of the Navy and Honolulu Board of Water Supply gave presentations on the proposed upgrades to the council's public infrastructure committee. 

Captain Marc Delao said the Navy's proposed upgrades are in line with its agreement with the EPA and DOH covering improvements at the Red Hill storage facility. The agreement followed a leak  in January 2014.of roughly 27,000 gallons of jet fuel from a storage tank. The facility is located above a water aquifer that serves 750,000 Oahu residents.

"I very much have a vested interest, as does my team, to preserve the drinking water, to safeguard the aquifer," said Delao. He said tens of thousands of military families rely on the same aquifer.

But the Board of Water Supply warned council members that the Navy's preferred upgrades are not the most secure option among the upgrade alternatives.

"What it really is, is taking the existing single-wall tanks combined with the other practices – soil vapor, monitoring of the ground water," said Erwin Kawata with the Board of Water Supply. 

"All of those things [are] collectively working together to provide a redundant element of detection and capture equivalent to a double-wall solution. This is not a tank-within-a-tank. It's talking about single-wall tanks working with other things to try to keep fuel from escaping the facility."

The Navy's proposal and the alternatives are posted on the EPA's webiste.  

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has scheduled a public meeting  at 9 a.m., Dec. 2, at the agency's State Laboratory Auditorium to discuss proposed changes in administrative rules governing underground storage tanks. 

The rules cover the Navy's fuel tanks as well as other underground systems, such as the airport's hydrant fuel distribution systems.

The proposed rule changes would require underground systems to either have secondary containment, such as a tank-within-a-tank, by July 15, 2045 or be moved above ground.

Officials say the amendments are designed to increase protection for the environment and the public's health.

Information on the proposed rule amendments are available online.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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