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Major stakeholders in Red Hill fuel crisis hash out next steps

Red Hill Well Monitoring 041122
Petty Officer 2nd Class MarQueon/Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet
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Digital
AIEA, Hawaii (April 11, 2022) - Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command contractors Matt Cornman, front, and Jonathan Martinez perform a routine inspection on a water pipe that connects to a granular activated carbon system at the Red Hill Well. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mar’Queon A. D. Tramble)

The major stakeholders in the Red Hill fuel leak and water contamination crisis held a public meeting Friday.

The Red Hill Fuel Tank Advisory Committee includes representatives from the state Department of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Navy, as well as the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.

Ernie Lau, head of the BWS, had several questions for Capt. Gordie Meyer, the commanding officer of the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command.

“Can you tell us the timeline that you foresee for the safe defueling of all the tanks and the pipelines containing fuel right over our aquifer? What is your best guess right now at a timeline?" Lau asked.

“That’s a great question — and we just received that report a week and a half ago. And we are still synthesizing and analyzing that. I think it’s fair to say as we look at the process and determine our plan to do any repairs or corrective actions and then actually do the defueling — how long each of those two steps will take, I don’t expect them to be measured in multiple or several years for each of those steps," the commanding officer said.

"But I can’t commit to a timeline now — what that exact time frame will look like. But again, I don’t think it’s going to be several years for each of those steps," Meyer said.

“Every moment that that facility contains fuel right over our aquifer is a moment too long for me — because it’s a threat to further damage to our resource," Lau responded.

It’s been six months since fuel was found in the Navy water system, forcing thousands of military families out of their homes and into hotel rooms just before the holiday season. Those families have since returned home and their water systems have been flushed.

The health department, the Navy and the Board of Water Supply all plan to dig additional wells near the Red Hill fuel tanks to help monitor water quality in the area.

Lau suggested the Navy communicate with Native Hawaiian groups for cultural guidance as part of the process of drilling "sentinel wells."

"Especially in Halawa Valley which has, I understand, significant cultural importance to our kānaka maoli community — that the Navy consider complying with the requirements for Native Hawaiian organizations. Capt. Meyer, would the Navy be willing to do that?" Lau said.

Meyer said the Navy is willing to communicate with Native Hawaiian organizations, landowners, and more.

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