Navy says Red Hill's closing won't come until December 2024

Defueling the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Storage Facility won’t be completed until the end of 2024 at the earliest, according to a new report.

The Hawaii Department of Health released copies of the Navy’s plan for defueling the facility. The report states Dec. 31, 2024, was identified as the earliest date that is “consistent with the safe defueling of the facility, based on the information that DoD has at this time.”

However, the report said the estimated completion date is still subject to contingencies.

“Red Hill needs to be shut down as quickly as possible and we fully expect that the Navy will marshal all possible available resources to defuel and decommission the facility,” said Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho. “However, with the extensive repairs needed and the Navy’s history of spills from unsafe pipelines, our first priority continues to be ensuring that all defueling activities are performed safely for the sake of the people and environment of Hawaii.”

The DOD said it would inform the State of Hawaii Department of Health and the public if any delays pop up during the process that may affect the timeline to complete defueling.

The 2024 deadline is much later than the initial estimated completion date, which Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin initially said would be within 12 months.

A fuel leak from the facility was first discovered in Oahu’s water supply in November 2021. The Pentagon ordered the permanent closure of Red Hill in March after thousands of residents experienced adverse effects from the contaminated water.

“The contamination of drinking water from the Red Hill Shaft was the result of the Navy’s ineffective immediate responses to the 6 May and 20 November 2021 fuel releases at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (Red Hill) and failure to resolve with urgency deficiencies in system design and construction, system knowledge, and incident response training,” wrote Admiral William Lescher, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations in the Navy’s command investigation into the leak. “These deficiencies endured due to seams in accountability and a failure to learn from prior incidents that falls unacceptably short of Navy standards for leadership, ownership, and the safeguarding of our communities.”

As part of the plan for defueling Red Hill, the Secretary of Defense directed the standup of Joint Task Force Red Hill to be led by a senior Navy flag officer who will oversee effort, according to the DOD.

The cost of closing the facility continues to climb. The Department of Defense requested $1 billion for fiscal year 2022 to help cover the costs of closing Red Hill and the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations is considering two bills that would allocate an additional $1.1 billion.

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