HONOLULU (KHON2) — Draining the Navy fuel tanks at Red Hill isn’t the only challenge unresolved. There are also tens of millions of gallons of water in a tainted shaft to be dealt with, and the cost to taxpayers is growing. Always Investigating follows up.
The Navy plans to discharge millions of gallons from its Red Hill shaft into Halawa Stream to clear the tainted water system. Whether they can do that is still up in the air.
Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You
The Navy’s Red Hill complex holds tens of millions of gallons of fuel in underground tanks, nearby where they also draw around 5 million gallons of water a day from what’s called the Red Hill Shaft.
Fuel leaks from the tank farm polluted the shaft last fall, leading to a contamination crisis across the Navy’s vast water pipe network that serves 93,000 residents. Purging the shaft by flushing into a stream could start as soon as Jan. 20.
“I highly suggested to the Navy that they brief the community, especially the community around that area, people that utilize Halawa Stream, before they pull out even an ounce of water into Halawa Stream,” U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii) told KHON2.
The topic of the stream dump has come up during local agency briefings and at today’s oversight hearing in Washington by the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.
The Navy explained they plan to run the Red Hill Shaft water through massive carbon filters, then discharge around 5 million gallons a day into the stream until clear. But the plan doesn’t yet have the green light, awaiting Department of Health and EPA agreement, and a national pollutant discharge permit.
The state Commission on Water Resource Management weighed the necessity and the risks at a recent session.
“You make sure the water quality is good both for the people receiving that water and for where that water goes to make sure, from our standpoint, it doesn’t harm fish and birds in the stream and in wetlands,” said commission Chairwoman Suzanne Case. “The next stage of this effort you’re about to launch which is pumping water from underneath the surface of the shaft at a high rate to ensure, or to basically control migration of water, to ensure that no fuel-contaminated water moves further west to the extent possible, and that’s a very, very urgent thing,”
Environmental experts tell Always Investigating the discharge should not impair water quality in the stream if all remediation steps are properly followed.
Meanwhile the contamination crisis toll is mounting on displaced families, and now on taxpayers.
“There’s still no definitive timeline as to when people can move back into their homes right now,” Kahele said. “They said current taxpayer bill for this mess is well over $250 million.”
The Navy now says they won’t fight the Department of Health’s order to empty the fuel tanks.
“It is our collective goal to restore the drinking water system, ensure environmental compliance and coordinate regulatory actions and respond appropriately and expeditiously to the concerns and needs of our impacted residents and families,” Vice Adm. Yancy Lindsey, commander of the Navy Installations Command, told Congressional leaders Tuesday.
Find more COVID-19 news: cases, vaccinations on our Coronavirus News page
We’ll continue to follow up on whether the Navy gets the proper permits for stream discharge, and on their fuel tank decommissioning plan which is due within weeks.