Hawaii official calls Navy underground fuel storage facility a ‘ticking time bomb’

Associated Press/Michael Sohn

A Hawaii official says that the Navy’s Red Hill underground fuel storage facility is a “ticking time bomb” as both sides grapple with the fallout of a leak that contaminated an important source of drinking water.   

David Day, who has been overseeing hearings regarding operations at Red Hill, made the comment in a proposed order upholding a previous state mandate to defuel the facility, among other demands.

The Navy has until Wednesday to file any exceptions to the proposed order. A Navy spokesman told The Hill that it is aware of the proposed decision but had no further statement.

“The weight of the evidence establishes that the Red Hill Facility, as currently situated, is a metaphorical ticking time bomb located 100 feet above the most important aquifer on Hawaii’s most populous island,” Day wrote.

The Red Hill facility, which was constructed during World War II, is an underground storage system in Oahu, about 2.5 miles northeast of Pearl Harbor. The facility sits directly above a groundwater aquifer, which is the principal source of drinking water for the island.

The facility consists of 20 field-constructed underground storage tanks which can hold up to 12.7 million gallons of fuel.

In late November, the Navy reported a release of about 14,000 gallons of a mixture of fuel and water at the Red Hill facility, which caused fuel contamination of one of the military’s drinking water sources.

The Hawaii Department of Health ordered the Navy to immediately suspend operations at Red Hill, install a water treatment system at the facility, and to submit a plan to safely defuel the tanks at the facility.

The Navy has suspended operations at the facility while it conducts an investigation, but appealed the state’s order. Hearings were held on the order last week. 

This isn’t the first incident at Red Hill. Day’s order pointed out that there have been at least 76 incidents from Red Hill involving 200,000 gallons of fuel over the past eight decades. 

Two incidents were reported in May and July.

But the November incident caused a “humanitarian crisis and environmental emergency and disaster,” Day wrote.

“Continued operation of the Red Hill Facility, as it is currently configured and operated, poses an imminent threat to human health and safety or the environment,” he said.

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