HONOLULU (KHON2) — Some military families are feeling validated with the results of the Navy’s command investigation as they were among the first to ring the alarm about the contamination of the water at their homes, but they said the trust between and the Navy has been broken.
It has been an uphill battle for thousands of residents to get the truth about the contamination of their tap water.
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On Thursday, the Hawaii Department of Health shared with the public the Navy’s investigation report about the Red Hill fuel spill.
Diedre Willbanks used to live at the AMR military housing complex, she said the report affirmed what she and her family already knew.
“It was good to feel validated. Finally, they’re listening and being like, ‘okay, we can’t hide it anymore,'” Willbanks said. “That’s what it felt like that they thought they could get away with just ignoring us and covering it up.”
The Navy’s findings said the fuel spill from May 2021 was a failure to properly follow procedures during a fuel transfer, and a failure to properly account for all of that fuel led to the second spill on Nov. 20, when it was released by a train-cart that struck a valve.
As a result, the fuel contaminated the drinking water of thousands of residents.
The Navy admitted human error played a role in these events.
For the thousands affected by the contaminated water, there is still mistrust.
Former AMR resident Te’Andrea Billiot said the Navy was slow to admit to the contamination of the water and the events that led to the crisis.
Billiot and Willbanks no longer live at AMR. They said they no longer felt safe raising their families in that community.
“I wanted to feel comfortable in using my appliances using my washing machine,” said Billiot. “Being able to take a shower when I want to be able to wash my kids in the water and not have to boil it.”
The Navy said if everything goes to plan, the Red Hill storage tanks will be completely defueled by December 2024. But for some, that is far too long.
“I think the bottom line is easy, right? Like we want to shut down as soon as possible,” Sierra Club Red Hill Organizer Anna Chua said. “And we know that December 2024 is just far too long. And that it’s as simple as that, like, our lives are on the line.”
Lawmakers are also calling the Navy’s findings into what led to the Red Hill fuel tank spills alarming, but validating.
“The Navy was not forthcoming at best and lied to us at worse,” said Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, (D) Kaneohe, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kailua, Heeia.
Sen. Brian Schatz said in a statement:
“Defueling and shutting down Red Hill cannot be delayed. If the Department of Defense wants to mobilize to accomplish something quickly and safely, it can. DoD must make it a priority to move fast and permanently shut down Red Hill as soon as possible.”
But one question on the minds of officials remains.
“Are the tanks safe,” said Rep. Kai Kahele, (D) Hawaii. “The tanks that currently hold over 100 million gallons of fuel, can those tanks continue to hold fuel safely over the next two years?”
The plan said the DoD’s Joint Task Force Red Hill will be responsible for oversight, but Congressman Kahele said the HDOH needs to work closely with the Navy to ensure the fuel is removed safely.
“Some of these repairs take a long time to do and so each repair comes with some level of time and time also presents some level of risk,” said Kahele.
To ensure the public that another water crisis will never happen again like this, the state legislature passed a bill this session. That measure is now sitting on Gov. David Ige’s desk for signing.
The legislation we just passed prohibits the HDOH from permitting this facility further. So the Navy is no longer authorized to continue to operate the facility. So there’s no reason to delay.”Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, (D) Kaneohe, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kailua, Heeia.
The congressional delegation is also working on getting the Navy to return money that state and city agencies spent to respond to the crisis.
“The Navy can do a better job of helping us make those agencies whole that had to really come out of pocket in a time of crisis to address this,” Kahele said.
Lawmakers said it’s clear, that the effort to defuel the Red Hill tanks is far from over.
“They cannot leave this situation without cleaning our water supply, effectively restoring what they broke and closing the facility for good,” said Keohokalole.
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The Navy has agreed to meet with state legislators again in another round of public hearings. KHON2 is told those briefings will happen in late July.