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Red Hill defueling may not happen until late 2024, US Rep. Kahele says

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US Navy Region Hawaii
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Earlier this week, U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Kai Kahele hosted a town hall to discuss what’s happening with the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage facility on Oʻahu.

The three-hour Q&A and information session allowed representatives and residents to discuss the most up-to-date information coming out of the federal government.

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U.S. Rep. Ed Case/Facebook
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U.S. Reps. Kai Kahele and Ed Case, and Honolulu Board of Water Supply Chief Engineer Ernie Lau at a town hall about the Navy Red Hill fuel storage facility at Moanalua High School on Monday, June 20, 2022.

Operations at Red Hill have been shut down since November 2021 when fuel leaked into the Navy's drinking water system, forcing thousands of military residents out of their homes and into hotels to access clean drinking water.

But Kahele speculates the actual defueling of the tanks may not happen until late 2024, pointing to approvals and procurement of contracts.

“The likelihood of commencing defueling by Dec. 31, 2023, is a little aggressive. It is more likely that it can be done by the fall of 2024,” he said.

In March, the Pentagon ordered the facility to be permanently shut down. The facility was built into the side of a mountain during World War II to protect the fuel tanks from enemy attack.

Now, the Navy is in the process of crafting a plan to drain and close Red Hill. This plan is due to the state Department of Health by the end of the month.

Case said the Navy must also figure out where exactly the fuel will go. He said a plan is already laid out.

“The reality is that Red Hill is our nation's number one premier Indo-Pacific fuel storage capacity facility,” Case said. “You cannot simply close it without contemplating how you're going to provide for fuel storage capacity beyond the closure of Red Hill.”

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U.S. Rep. Ed Case/Facebook
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Honolulu Board of Water Supply Chief Engineer Ernie Lau at a town hall about Red Hill on Monday, June 20, 2022.

But the longer it takes to defuel, the more problems can arise. Civilian and military families still live in fear of another leak.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply’s Ernie Lau said a 30-year-old report indicates just how quickly a disaster can occur.

“I saw a report dating back to the 90s by the Navy's own consultants,” Lau said, describing that if there were a break in a specific area, it could take 21 minutes to fill up a lower access tunnel.

“So we're dealing with a nightmare here,” he said. “It's one thing they need to (defuel), they need to do it quickly. But they got to do it safely, because they could inadvertently create a worse problem for all of us.”

Hawaiʻi's congressional delegation is seeking an additional $1.1 billion in Red Hill-related funding.

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