© 2023 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sierra Club, Earthjustice view Navy defueling announcement with 'cautious optimism'

US Navy Region Hawaii

Earthjustice and the Sierra Club say they are cautiously optimistic about the prospect of the Navy removing fuel from its Red Hill storage facility.

This after a top official with the U.S. Pacific Fleet told members of Congress on Tuesday that it will comply with a state emergency order that requires the Navy to do so.

Starting in late November, about 1,000 people complained that their tap water smelled like fuel, or reported physical ailments such as nausea and rashes after ingesting it.

The Dec. 6 order was handed down after petroleum was detected in a drinking well.

Earthjustice and the Sierra Club intervened in a contested case hearing in which the Navy said the state had no legal authority to enforce the order.

“This is encouraging, but words are one thing, and actions are another,” said David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi in the contested case hearing. “There are crucial deadlines under the order that must be met in the coming weeks."

That includes a Feb. 2 deadline for the Navy to file a work plan and implementation schedule for defueling the Red Hill tanks.

"The Navy caused this problem. We own it and we're going to fix it," Rear Adm. Blake Converse told members of Congress. "Nothing is more important than the health, safety and wellbeing of our families, our military residents, our neighbors and the communities that we call home."

When asked if the Navy may pursue a legal challenge to the order in the future, Converse said, "The decision on whether to contest the order has to take into account the strategic importance of Red Hill, the alternatives, and a number of factors that are associated with the combatant commanders' responsibilities."

"Ultimately, the Secretary of the Navy and Office of the Secretary of Defense will have to make a decision on that. I am not a part of that decision making and I don't have any information right now," Converse said.

“It is our full expectation that the Navy will follow the law by complying with the final order,” said Katie Arita-Chang, a spokesperson for the Hawaiʻi Department of Health.

Related Stories