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U.S. Space Force apologizes for Haleakalā fuel spill, continues remediation

The military's Maui Space Surveillance Complex on Haleakalā on Feb. 2, 2023.
Gaylord Paul Garcia
Maui County
The military's Maui Space Surveillance Complex on Haleakalā on Feb. 2, 2023.

A damaged generator float and power surge are the likely cause for the fuel spill at the Maui Space Surveillance Complex at Haleakalā last week, according to the U.S. Space Force.

About 700 gallons of diesel fuel leaked into the surrounding area in a worst-case estimate, Space Forces Indo-Pacific Commander Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir said during a Monday press conference.

"We have a solemn responsibility to protect this sacred ground upon which we have the privilege to operate," Mastalir said. "It is a privilege, not a right. You expect more from us, and last week, we let you down and for that I am truly sorry."

Mastalir said an initial investigation found that a regulation float failure caused fuel to continue to flow from a generator and never stop, resulting in the spill. The float mechanism Mastalir described are similar to the tank buoys found in a household toilet.

"Additional analysis is ongoing to better understand exactly why this float failed in the 'on' position," Mastalir said. "Moving forward, we are focused on thorough and complete remediation here at Haleakalā."

Mastalir said soil testing will continue throughout the excavation and remediation.

"The initial plan will be to remediate to 200 cubic yards around the generator that is a depth of about 6 feet," Mastalir said. "At that point, we will take measurements to better understand what that level of contamination is. It's impossible to know at this point, exactly how deep the diesel fuel was saturated into the topography."

Mastalir said the Department of Defense and the Air Force are modifying safety protocols in the area.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting its own investigation.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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