Red Hill press conference airs community concerns

Concerned residents and elected officials call for drinking water resources to be better protected from fuel leaks

Hawaii Independent Staff

Residents and elected officials concerned about the leaks from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility held a press conference today at 5:30 PM in the parking lot at Moanalua Middle School. Participants included Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, veteran Jennifer Rachels, State Senators Glenn Wakai and Breene Harimoto, State Representatives Aaron Johanson and Linda Ichiyama, and Honolulu Councilmembers Carol Fukunaga and Brandon Elefante.

The Sierra Club says that the purpose of the press conference was to reiterate the public’s concern for future drinking water resources ahead of a public meeting on the status of leaks from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility jointly held by the U.S. Navy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Hawaiʻi Department of Health. The EPA and DOH recently rejected the Navy’s plan for the facility for lack of detail, transparency, and collaboration in the effort to protect Oʻahu’s drinking water resources. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply also released four letters reiterating their concerns with the inadequacy of the monitoring, renovation and clean up at the fuel storage facility.

“We are grateful to the Hawaiʻi Department of Health and U.S. EPA for making the tough decisions necessary to ensure our drinking water is fully protected,” said Senator Glenn Wakai, who sits on the state fuel advisory committee formed after the latest leak to address historic underground storage facilities.

In January 2014, 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked from tank 5 in Red Hill. Since the facility was built in 1943, as much as 200,000 gallons of fuel has leaked from the facility. The tanks are located a mere 100 feet above the sole-source drinking water aquifer serving 600,000 residents and visitors to Oʻahu.  Groundwater monitoring wells near the storage tanks indicate fuel contamination in the water is rising.

“The stakes are too high, not only for our community, but for the entire island of Oʻahu, to leave this much room for uncertainty. We need all stakeholders to be as proactive as possible in drafting a comprehensive work plan,” said Representative Aaron Johanson.

“As someone who fought for this country and loves Hawaiʻi deeply, I am just heartbroken to see our military not doing all that it possibly can to ensure its operations do not harm the public’s health and Hawaiʻi’s amazing environment,” said Jennifer Rachels, a U.S. veteran. 

“The parallels to Flint Michigan are just too disturbing to ignore,” Rachels added. “We know what needs to be done to prevent a catastrophe, and we should not hesitate to do it.”

The Navy has been in protracted negotiations with the EPA and DOH to establish a plan of action at the fuel storage facility to clean up and protect drinking water supplies from further contamination. The EPA and DOH recently rejected the Navy’s plans for Red Hill for lack of detail, transparency, and collaboration necessary to ensure Oʻahu’s sole-source aquifer is not contaminated. 

“I am sincerely grateful for the Board of Water Supply’s commitment to protecting the public’s drinking water, as well as the public’s participation in this agreement process,” said Councilmember Carol Fukunaga. “Public trust and input is a critical component for the success of any mitigation actions taken to address public concerns and fears about the impacts of future leaks.  We should not have to wait another 20 years to see actions that protect our drinking water.”

“I hope the Navy makes the most of the opportunity provided by the rejection of their plan by the EPA and DOH,” said Senator Breene Harimoto. “There truly is no substitute for our drinking water. We have one chance to get this right. We need the Navy to act quickly and responsibly to ensure that the public’s water is not contaminated by a failure at this fuel storage facility.”

“I am deeply concerned that the current plan does not include immediate protections for our precious and irreplaceable water resources. The current plan does little to assure that we will not have a catastrophic contamination of our aquifer. Tank integrity must be assured and efforts to fix, renovate or replace the tanks must be a top priority” said Councilmember Brandon Elefante.

“As a resident in Moanalua Gardens, I share the concerns of my neighbors regarding the past and the potential of future leaks in these massive fuel tanks,” said Senator Donna Mercado Kim, who represents the district where the tanks are located.

“No amount of risk is acceptable when we are talking about the future of our drinking water,” said Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “That is why we are calling the Navy to guarantee that these tanks will never leak again and to clean up the leaks that have already occurred. It is straightforward choice—no assumptions or speculation—if the Navy cannot meet this minimum expectation, then they must store their fuel elsewhere.”