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Navy objects to the recommendation it should drain Red Hill fuel tanks

navy Red Hill Fuel storage facility military Pump Room
Daniel Mayberry/Naval Supply Systems Command Fle
(July 17, 2020) Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility pump room. (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel Mayberry/Released)

The Navy continues to fight a state mandate that would require it to remove millions of gallons of fuel from its storage facility on Red Hill.

The Navy filed objections Wednesday afternoon to the recommendation by state hearing officer David Day, who also serves as a state deputy attorney general.

Day said the Navy should comply with the state order handed down by Gov. David Ige on Dec. 6 in response to the contamination of the water supply at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

State Department of Health Deputy Director Marian Tsuji now has 30 days to decide whether the order should be enforced.

The Navy disclosed that fuel from Red Hill had contaminated one of its drinking water wells and sickened hundreds in military housing. Honolulu officials are concerned leaks from the facility may permanently damage an aquifer that sits underneath the tanks, jeopardizing Oʻahu's broader water supply.

The Navy has a legal right to its filing, said David Henkin, a lawyer for Earthjustice, which represented the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi in the case.

“But it also has a moral obligation to acknowledge the reality that every day it fights this emergency order, is another day that Oʻahu’s principal source of drinking water remains at risk for catastrophic and irreversible contamination,” Henkin said in a statement.

The Navy's filing took issue with numerous conclusions drawn by Day, including those concerning the state of the Red Hill storage tanks and the Navy’s ability to mitigate any danger they pose.

The filing argued the current situation with the tanks did not pose an “imminent” threat to human health and the environment.

The Navy responded that the November fuel leak that contaminated the Navy’s drinking water well came from “an accidental pipe release caused by human error” and not from a tank leak.

“That release, in other words, does not support the Hearing Officer’s theory of system risk,” the Navy said.

The Navy said other conclusions regarding the nature of previous jet fuel leaks, as well as long-term health effects for residents did not reflect the evidence presented.

The Navy also said Day’s recommendation inflates the state’s legal authority over the Red Hill facility according to Hawaiʻi law.

Further, the Navy said Day’s findings improperly cited evidence of at least 76 incidents of fuel releases over the last 80 years as evidence that the fuel tank facility poses a constant threat to Oʻahu’s water supply.

The filing said 30 of those releases were attributed to an early leak detection system with a flawed design that generated false positives. Another 26 leaks were from tanks 1 and 19, which have been permanently decommissioned.

Read the Navy's full objection below or click here to open a new tab.

The Associated Press reporter Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.

Scott Kim is a news editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact him at
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