City Council launches new Red Hill legislation, but Navy’s successful lobbying looms

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Honolulu City Council is weighing in on the growing Navy water crisis.

It wants to regulate the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, which leaked 14,000 gallons of fuel on November 20th before the Navy’s Red Hill Well was contaminated around Nov. 28.

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The Hawaii Department of Health has already issued an emergency order to drain the fuel tanks, saying it poses a risk to the Halawa Shaft, which provides 20% of Oahu’s drinking water.

The Navy says it will fight the DOH order, and they have been successful at stopping legislation over the tanks before.

City Councilmembers Radiant Cordero and Tommy Waters say the City has legal authority to create requirements on underground tanks, and all federal agencies must comply.

“The federal government, by the way of on an act of Congress has empowered the counties to take issue with this,” City Council Chair Tommy Waters said.

The bill would require the Navy to have a permit to operate the tanks unless it proves that the tank system will not leak regulated substances into the environment.

The issue is urgent, with Board of Water Supply Manager and Chief Engineer Ernest Lau telling KHON2’s Gina Mangieri Tuesday that the Halawa Shaft shutdown could last into the summer or beyond.

“We’re going to have to ask everyone 100% of the island to conserve now,” Councilmember Cordero said. “It’s not just a Red Hill, not just 20% of the island problem. It becomes a whole island problem, an Oahu problem. And that’s why you really want to take these steps,”

A state senate bill in 2020 would’ve required the tanks to be decommissioned by 2028, but the Navy lobbied hard against the bill.

“Our commitment to ensuring that the water remains safe and making investments to that facility to protect the aquifer protect the environment,” NAVFAC Commanding Officer Marc Delao told KHON2 back in 2020.

Among other protections, their plan was to include repair maintenance, and recoating of the tanks.

“Using the latest technology for cleaning inspecting and repairing our tanks, which we continue to do. Also just buying down some of the risks with some of the components of the tanks.” Delao added.

The bill passed two readings, but Consumer Protections Chair Roslyn Baker deleted the measure from decision-making. Senator Baker did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Senator Glenn Wakai was not on that committee but recalls the Navy making promises to sway senate opinion.

“A lot of it was about how this was such an architectural marvel,” Senator Wakai said. “They were so lucky to have this in place. Please believe us that we’re about to fix it, and this is in 2020 testimony. And kind of lulled us into a sense that they were taking responsibility for this particular issue,”

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Chair Waters plans to call the City Council back this December to have a hearing on the bill instead of the previously scheduled next meeting in late January.

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