Board of Water Supply says it's 'extremely concerned about the situation' with Navy's fuel storage
The U.S. Navy heard some angry public reaction Thursday about its continued use of fuel storage tanks at Red Hill on Oʻahu. The comments came during a meeting of the committee monitoring the situation at the facility.
The Hawaiʻi Department of Health’s Fuel Tank Advisory Committee meeting took place under the shadow of negative publicity surrounding the Navy’s Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility.
Earlier this week, the Navy released documents on a 1,600-gallon jet fuel leak from a pipeline in May; the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the DOH concerning an earlier fuel leak in Pearl Harbor; and the DOH announced more than $300,000 in fines against the Navy for fuel storage violations.
During the committee meeting, Board of Water Supply Manager Ernest Lau repeatedly warned of the dangers of jet fuel seeping into the island’s aquifer.
"The Board of Water Supply remains extremely concerned about the situation. Protection of our drinking water resources, I know, is important to both the Navy and to the BWS. Our Halawa shaft is one of our largest sources, so if we had to shut that off, the consequences to the people of Honolulu all the way out to Hawaiʻi Kai will be very dire," Lau said.
More than a dozen others submitted testimony, nearly every one of them questioning the Navy’s ability to keep Oʻahu’s water supply safe. Many suggested the facility should be shut down, and a new one built elsewhere.
Navy Capt. Gordie Meyer told the committee that they are capable of safely maintaining the Red Hill facility. He is the commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command for Hawaiʻi.
"We don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. We can do both. We can protect the environment, protect the people of Hawaiʻi, and we can protect our nation and the Department of Defense with our strategic imperatives. And so we can do those things through the Red Hill working initiatives that we are doing. So it’s not a matter of one or the other," Meyer said.
The Red Hill storage tanks are a critical source of fuel for the military, but were built 80 years ago, and have leaked in the past.
The Navy is currently petitioning the state for a new 5-year permit to operate the facility, which must be granted by the DOH.
Listen to the interview with Navy Capts. Gordie Meyer and Bert Hornyak from HPR's The Conversation on Oct. 27, 2021.