Lawmakers call for more action over Red Hill fuel facility, drinking water


Many state lawmakers are calling a plan of action “unacceptable” following a massive fuel leak from the Red Hill Storage Bulk Storage Facility.

Eighteen Senate and House legislators submitted a letter asking the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and State Department of Health (DOH) to renegotiate an agreement with the U.S. Navy to strengthen the requirements for leak prevention and detection of underground storage tanks.

“The Navy claims their rigorous inspection and repair standards will ensure the tanks are safe. However, after repairing one tank last year, it immediately leaked approximately 27,000 gallons of fuel,” said Sen. Laura Thielen, D, Kailua, Lanikai, Enchanted Lake, Keolu Hills, Maunawili, Waimānalo, Hawaii Kai, Portlock. “It would be unconscionable to delay measures any longer that would prevent further leaks and risk the spread of any contamination to our water supply.”

In June, the EPA, DOH and Navy announced a proposed Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) which, according to Dean Higuchi of the EPA, “outlines a whole set of environmental protective measures, operation and maintenance procedures to ensure that the Red Hill tanks will be protective of those ground water resources, and yet also allow the Navy to continue to use the tanks as part of their national defense mission.”

Under the AOC, a feasibility study, to be submitted within two years, would look at a range of tank upgrade options that could be implemented. The underground storage tanks in service would be upgraded in phases over 20 years. In the meantime, the Navy would double the frequency of its tank tightness testing from biennial to annual, and additional groundwater monitoring wells may be installed between the Red Hill tanks and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply’s drinking water wells.

However, lawmakers are demanding stronger, swifter measures.

They say the tanks should be brought up to federal conformance standards within no more than 10 years, with at least half brought up to standards within five years, and say that the State should require the Navy to increase the pace of the AOC investigation and installation of new groundwater monitoring wells.

“While we recognize the important role the U.S. Navy and Pacific Command has amongst our nation and understand the Navy has provided assurances that significant efforts have been made to maintain the fuel tanks and protect these tanks from fuel leaks, it is simply unacceptable the ostensible lack of urgency to do more to protect this island’s aquifer that is critical to one-fourth of Honolulu’s population,” Thielen said. “We respectfully request that the tangible risk to our water supply be considered a much higher priority and the tanks be completely overhauled or replaced sooner as opposed to later.”

The letter also requests the Navy provide to the DOH and Honolulu Board of Water Supply records and data regarding the operations of the Red Hill fuel tanks in order to be better informed and negotiate further on equal footing.

The Navy has said it wants to do a two-year study first before taking any action.

“I don’t want to rush to failure,” said Navy Region Hawaii regional engineer Capt. Dean Tufts. “I’m the lead engineer, the lead military engineer for Navy Region Hawaii. I want to make sure that we do a calculated assessment of what we can and cannot do in these tanks.”

The BWS and the Navy say our drinking water is safe right now, and both do quarterly ground water monitoring.

The Legislators submitting the joint letter are Senators Sam Slom, Les Ihara, Jr., Brickwood Galuteria, Suzanne Chun Oakland, Donna Mercado Kim, Glenn Wakai, Breene Harimoto, Clarence Nishihara, Michelle Kidani, Will Espero, Maile Shimabukuro, Gil Riviere and Laura Thielen, and Representatives Bertrand Kobayashi, Della Au Belatti, Jarrett Keohokalole, Cynthia Thielen and Chris Lee.

The letter is being presented as part of the public comment period on the proposed AOC which has a deadline of July 20, 2015.

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