Navy's Proposal To Upgrade Red Hill Fuel Tanks Drawing Opposition

Oct 15, 2019

The public will have two chances this week to hear about the U.S. Navy's proposed plans to upgrade underground tanks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility to satisfy an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaii Department of Health.

In 2014, one of the Navy's tanks at its Red Hill facility leaked 27,000 gallons of jet fuel, threatening the water aquifers underground.

The following year, the EPA and state health officials reached an agreement with the Navy to address the leak in an enforcement action called an administrative order on consent, said Deputy Director for Environmental Health Keith Kawaoka.

One of the order's requirements calls for the Navy to specify what upgrades it will make to the fuel tanks to ensure that there are no future leaks.

The storage facility can store up to 250 million gallons of fuel and is located 100 feet above groundwater aquifers that the Honolulu Board of Water Supply says services Oahu residents from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai.

The Navy issued its plan to upgrade its tanks in September. Some of the upgrades include installing eight more monitoring wells, experimenting with materials such as epoxy to create a coating to act as an additional liner for the interior surface of the tanks and adding fuel release detection equipment.

Kawaoka said the health department is still reviewing the proposal and is not yet ready to comment on it.

The Sierra Club of Hawaii, however, has called on the EPA and health department to reject the Navy’s proposal.

In a letter to both agencies, the group contends the Navy plan “is the least expensive and least protective option [and that] this option does not include any substantive plan to upgrade the tank structure to ensure the protection of our aquifer.”

The Navy could not be reached for comment Monday. But in its letter to federal and state officials, the Navy said it views its proposal "along with all other additional improvements, controls and measures as the best level of environmental protection for all release scenarios." 

Kawaoka explained that there is no specific deadline for the EPA and health department to accept or reject the proposal. He said it’s too soon to say what steps would be taken if the proposal is denied.

“At this stage, we aren’t even there yet,” he said.

The Navy will hold a public meeting on its proposal on Tuesday, Oct. 15, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Oahu Veterans Center located at 1298 Kukila St. in Salt Lake. 

“We certainly encourage the public to learn about the Navy’s proposal for the future of the Red Hill tanks,” said Kawaoka. “We’ll have staff from both the Department of Health and EPA present to answer some questions.”

A second meeting on the plan is scheduled for Thursday, Oct.17, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the State Capitol infront of the Fuel Tank Advisory Committee. The committee was established by the HDOH to study the fuel tank leaks.

The public can provide verbal and written comments on the proposal. 

Comments can be emailed to DOHrhcomments@hawaiioimt.onmicrosoft.com or redhill@epa.com. Regular mail can be addressed to 2827 Waimano Home Road, #100, Pearl City, Hawaii 96782, ATTN: Red Hill.

The health department is also planning on holding a public hearing in November where the public can also provide comments. No specific date has been set for the hearing, but officials will issue a public notice 14 days prior to the meeting.