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State, city officials to engage in Red Hill defueling, remediation policy work

josh green rick bla.jpg
Office of Gov. Josh Green
Gov. Josh Green and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi sign the unified statement on May 9, 2023.

Over the last 18 months, city and state leaders have wrestled with the Red Hill water crisis and its aftermath.

In a "unified" statement, city and state leaders formally announced their decision to work together on policy to guide the military's defueling and remediation efforts of the island’s aquifer.

The Joint Task Force-Red Hill is already working with the state Department of Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, but elected officials want more of a say in how it's done.

"We want total transparency, we'd like to have data in a more straightforward, presented manner so that we can understand it as one society, we want to make sure that we have absolute clear dates about when Red Hill will be drained," Gov. Josh Green said at a Tuesday press conference.

"We want to have a clear and comprehensive plan about remediation of the water and the aquifer," Green said.

 Gov. Josh Green speaks at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on May 9, 2023.
Office of Gov. Josh Green
Gov. Josh Green speaks at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on May 9, 2023.

Lawmakers stood firm that defueling must be coupled with remediation. DOH Director Dr. Kenny Fink said that looks like removing contamination and assuring a safe future.

"There might be a remediation to a certain level, but that's from a regulatory authority," Fink said. "What we're seeing here today is a community coming together to say we need clean, safe water for us and our generations. So this is a more comprehensive, inclusive approach to get to that end, with the interest of our entire community."

To do so, city and state officials, agencies and other leaders will discuss a policy-driven framework over the next three to four months.

"Some of the workshops will be designed for public input so that we can include manaʻo from communities across the state," House Speaker Scott Saiki said.

"The plan will serve both as a blueprint and a living document on what is required to remediate the land and the water around Red Hill to ensure clean and pure water for the future," Saiki said.

In response to the signing, the Joint Task Force-Red Hill said they are aware of the unified statement and that “ensuring clean water is critical to the Department of Defense” and that they remain “absolutely committed to safely and expeditiously defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.”

Throughout the Tuesday press conference at the state Capitol's Rotunda, leaders noted this show of force as a first. Included in the statement's signing were the governor, state Legislature, Mayor Rick Blangiardi, DOH, the Board of Land and Natural Resources, Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the University of Hawaiʻi, and the City and County of Honolulu City Council.

The statement, Green said, is also a statement addressing the state's longstanding history with the military.

"This relationship goes way back and it goes also into the future. There are large questions that will emerge, whether it's the leases that we have to deal with in the coming years by 2029, and most importantly, the water," Green said.

Sabrina Bodon is Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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