Health Officials OK With 2045 Deadline For Red Hill But Many Call For Action Sooner

Dec 3, 2019

The Hawaii Department of Health gathered public comments Monday on a proposal to require underground fuel storage tanks like those at the U.S. Navy's Red Hill facility to have a secondary containment system or be moved by 2045.

Many of those who testified, however, want to see immediate action taken by the department, citing the 2014 leak of the Red Hill fuel tanks as the main reason for their opposition to the proposed rule changes.

Some 27,000 gallons of jet fuel seeped from the Navy underground storage tanks back then, threatening Oahu's drinking water. Residents and local officials have been calling for safety improvements at the Navy facility ever since.

Following the 2014 leak, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health negotiated a binding agreement with the Navy to address fuel releases and implement improvements to protect the public health and environment. That agreement originally required the Navy to upgrade its tanks by 2038.

The Navy has proposed upgrades to its tanks and greater monitoring for leaks, but it has been criticized for not suggesting better improvements to prevent future incidents. 

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has called for double-walled, tank-within-a-tank improvements. However, after committing to exploring such secondary containment options, the Navy also said if it could not find a solution, it would defuel and move the facility -- although not until 2045.

Keith Kawaoka, the health department's deputy director of Environmental Health Administration, said the department believes the 2045 timeframe is appropriate and explained that the proposed rule change is the department's effort to be proactive.

“In terms of setting a definite time when those tanks have to be relocated, we realize that tanks like the Red Hill tanks can’t just be moved overnight,” he said. “We can discuss what’s an appropriate time for those things to be relocated and that’s what we’re having the public comment on.”

Ashley Nishihara, a Salt Lake resident who was among those who testified at the hearing, wants faster action.

“That is unacceptable and I don’t even think it should go to 2038. I think that they should do it now, they should get it out now,” she said. “It will not take 26 years to just take the tanks out . . . They are just dragging their feet.”

Commander Darrel Frame, Navy Region Hawaii Red Hill program manager, said in a statement that “the Navy is confident the tanks can be safely operated with these upgrades but acknowledges secondary containment is the public’s preferred solution. Therefore, in addition to meeting this requirement, the Navy has committed to provide secondary containment or defuel the tanks in 2045.”

The deadline for submitting testimony on the proposed rule is Dec. 16. Comments can be emailed to DOHustprogram@HawaiiOIMT.onmicrosoft.com.