The Hawaii Department of Health may take more aggressive action to force the U.S. Navy to implement better leak detection and prevention technology at its Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility where an estimated 27,000 gallons of fuel leaked in January. 

The two sides are currently negotiating a “consent order” related to improved leak detection and prevention efforts at the Navy’s WWII era facility that leaked an estimated 27,000 gallons of fuel in January. 

But if a settlement can’t be reached, the health department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will instead issue “administrative orders,” requiring the Navy to make improvements in accordance with federal and state laws, said Gill. 

Security fence at Red Hill Underground Fuel Facility. 1.29.14 ©PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Gates leading up to the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Gill said the first option is preferable in order to avoid potential lengthy litigation and gain concessions from the Navy that aren’t necessarily afforded by law. 

Gill’s comments came at the first meeting of the Red Hill Task Force, created by the Legislature earlier this year following the January leak and subsequent revelations that there had been dozens of past leaks at the WWII-era facility over the years that have contaminated the groundwater below the facility. 

In addition to outside pressure from the EPA and health department, the Navy is also facing pressure to shut down the facility or scale it back from various departments within the Department of Defense, as Civil Beat reported in July. 

“If we wanted to protect the groundwater we would remove these tanks,” said Gill. “These tanks underground, as they are configured, are inherently in my view, a threat.”

But Gill said that national security issues are also at play with top decision makers. 

“On the flip side is what we hear from different parts of the military is the functionality of these tanks is not something the Navy wants to give up,” he said. “They are huge, they have huge capacity, strategic interests and operational interests of the Navy. And the ability to provide fuel to various ships that come into Pearl Harbor is of high importance to many people in the Navy at the highest levels.”

The task force is expected to meet a couple of more times before submitting a report to the Legislature in December. 

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