Thu, Jan 13, 2022 5:00 AM
By Kim Jarrett | The Center Square, The Center Square
(The Center Square) – U.S. Navy officials told a Congressional subcommittee that well over $250 million has been spent remediating a fuel leak at the Red Hill underground storage facility in Hawaii that contaminated the area’s water supply.
Naval officials said the fuel leak was caused by “operator error” and have pledged to fix the problem and comply with an order from the Hawaii Department of Health to drain the underground storage tanks.
The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness spent two hours Tuesday questioning naval officials about the water contamination, which was discovered last November by residents of the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., asked naval officials about how much the Navy has spent on the incident.
“It’s well over $250 million,” Navy Rear Adm. Blake Converse said. The cost includes temporary lodging and transportation for the families affected.
The release of 14,000 gallons of jet fuel into the water supply in November was not the first time fuel leaks were reported. In 2014, 27,000 gallons were spilled. As in the case with the most-recent leak, the cause was said to be "operator error."
"During the time between the 2014 release and the most-recent spill last year, the Navy repeatedly stated that these investments would ensure that Oahu’s drinking water was safe," said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., the committee's chair. “Unfortunately, as we have watched this crisis unfold over the last three months, it is apparent that this is not the case."
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., asked whether the Navy would cover ongoing medical costs for residents affected by the fuel leak. More than 3,500 families were relocated and some have not moved back into their homes.
“In terms of have we budgeted for the cost of the event? Clearly we have not,” Converse said. “What is going to be the impact of any third party claims, I don’t have that information.”
Converse said any aftercare would be paid for by the Navy.
Democratic Hawaii Congressman Kai Kahele said there is a lack of trust between Hawaii and the U.S. military.
“Let me be clear, clean drinking water is national security,” Kahele said. “It cannot be compromised for anything.”
The Navy plans to bring in a third party to assess the tanks and make recommendations on what to do next, Converse said.
The tanks were built during World War II and can hold up to 250 gallons of fuel.
"I'm incredibly concerned that the Navy is using a World War II logistics strategy for use in a future conflict," said Mike Waltz, R-Fla., the committee's ranking member.
The committee will continue the discussion in a classified meeting that will be held sometime in the next month, Garamendi said.