Hearing officer orders Navy to remove fuel from storage tanks at Red Hill

(The Center Square) – A hearing officer has sided with Hawaiian officials and said in his order the U.S. Navy must empty fuel storage tanks at its Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility as “more releases of fuel from the Red Hill facility are basically inevitable.”

The Hawaii Department of Health issued an emergency order Dec. 5 directing the Navy to immediately stop operations at Red Hill and install a drinking water infiltration system. The order also required the Navy to submit a plan for emptying the storage tanks within 30 days.

Monday's ruling came a week after David Day heard testimony about the latest leak from the tanks that infiltrated the water supply of nearby residents, leading thousands to evacuate their homes after unsafe levels of fuel were found in their water.

“These actions are necessary and designed to reduce or stop the imminent peril caused by the November 2021 release and continuing operations at the Red Hill Facility as currently configured and operated,” Day wrote in his ruling.

The 20 tanks that store jet fuel and marine diesel are 100 feet above the groundwater aquifer that supplies water to nearby residents. The Navy does not know how the leak occurred or exactly how much damage was done, Day wrote in his order.

The Navy also cannot prevent future releases and breaches will continue to occur, Day wrote.

“In sum, the situation is beyond the Navy’s ability to adequately mitigate the threats posed by the continued operation of the Red Hill Facility, with [underground storage tanks] filled with fuel, at this time,” Day wrote in the order.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation called on their leaders to compel the U.S. Department of Defense to fund the cleanup.

“We must bring the full power of Congress to bear on the Department of Defense to ensure that it is spending every dollar it has available to address this emergency right now,” U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Kaiali‘i Kahele wrote in a letter earlier this month.

“We are deeply concerned that despite this being a crisis of its own making, the Navy may be reluctant to spend the money required to meet the moment because of concerns about unknown future emergency needs or simply not wanting to own the long-term costs associated with this crisis,” they wrote.

The Navy has until 5 p.m. Wednesday to respond. If the Navy doesn’t contest the ruling, it has 30 days to file its plan to remove the fuel from the tanks.

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