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Local environmental groups want US government to shut down Navy fuel tanks

Hawaii Navy red hill Fuel Tanks Sierra Club of Hawaii Wayne Tanaka 112421
Audrey McAvoy/AP
Sierra Club of Hawaii Director Wayne Tanaka speaks at a news conference and rally in Honolulu, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Citing threats to Honolulu's drinking water, environmental groups called on President Joe Biden and military leaders to shut down tanks that provide an important fuel reserve for the U.S. forces in the Pacific. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

Local environmental groups called for the federal government to close down the Navy's Red Hill fuel storage facility on Oʻahu, saying they’ve had enough of the problems surrounding the storage tanks.

Citing threats to Honolulu's drinking water, the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi and others on Wednesday called on President Joe Biden and military leaders to shut down the tanks that provide an important fuel reserve for U.S. forces in the Pacific.

“Enough is enough. We've lost all faith in the local Navy command,” said Wayne Tanaka, the director of the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, at a rally and news conference.

The military built 20 fuel tanks, each the equivalent of 25 stories tall, during World War II near Pearl Harbor on top of an aquifer that supplies drinking water to one-quarter of Honolulu.

The call to shut them down comes after a series of recent revelations about fuel leaks associated with the Red Hill fuel tanks or Pearl Harbor.

Tanaka called the tanks “an unacceptable threat to the drinking water supply for 400,000 Oʻahu residents.”

Navy Region Hawaiʻi said in a statement that it is committed to safeguarding the environment and drinking water while protecting national security.

“We will closely monitor all aspects of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility to ensure the safety of our operations,” it said.

On Monday, the Navy said 14,000 gallons (52,995 liters) of a water and fuel mixture leaked into the Red Hill facility’s lower tunnel from a fire suppression system drain line. No fuel leaked into the environment.

Last month, Honolulu Civil Beat reported that officials waited months to report a January leak at Pearl Harbor to the state Department of Health “amid concerns it would hamper its ability to secure a state permit” for the Red Hill tanks.

Hawaiʻi’s four-member congressional delegation has asked the Department of Defense’s inspector general to investigate the January leak, saying they want to know whether the Navy properly investigated and notified state authorities.

The state health department last month fined the Navy more than $325,000 for Red Hill operations and maintenance violations.

A 2014 fuel leak prompted the Navy to sign an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Health Department to upgrade the tanks and better prevent and detect leaks.

"We’re done waiting for the local Navy command to acknowledge the truth, which is that they cannot guarantee our safety. There have been too many leaks, too many lies exposed by whistleblowers. There’s no way we can trust assurances anymore that there’s nothing to worry about," Tanaka of the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi said.

Tanaka said the environmental groups are planning public rallies, letter-writing campaigns, outreach to celebrities and entertainers, and door-to-door canvassing of Oʻahu households to raise public awareness of the issue.

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