Hawaii House lawmakers on Tuesday advanced two bills aimed at shutting down the Red Hill fuel facility. 

House Bill 2514 would add a provision to state law mandating that the maximum capacity of an underground storage tank “shall not exceed” 100,000 gallons. The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility’s tanks can each hold over 12 million gallons. 

And HB 2274 would prohibit the issuance of state permits for underground fuel storage tanks within a half-mile of an aquifer, starting July 1. The Red Hill tanks and pipelines sit just 100 feet above Honolulu’s main aquifer. 

Lawmakers toured the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Jan. 6, 2022, including Rep. Sylvia Luke and Rep. Ryan Yamane.
Lawmakers who toured the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility earlier this year included Rep. Sylvia Luke and Rep. Ryan Yamane. Bills aimed at Red Hill advanced from Yamane’s committee. Courtesy: State Senate/2022

The bills are part of a larger legislative effort to respond to a Navy water contamination crisis in which the Pearl Harbor area’s drinking water was tainted with fuel last year. The measures received support from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the Sierra Club of Hawaii and residents who have advocated for the shutdown of  the World War II-era facility for years but never got any traction.

One such resident, Gina Hara of Halawa, applauded the state’s proposals. 

“It’s going to leak again,” she said during a committee hearing. “All tanks leak. It’s not just the tanks. It’s the pipes. People are always going to make a human error. Thank you for all your work on this.”

Waikiki resident Denise Boisvert said in written testimony that for years, she has spoken in opposition to Red Hill at the city and state level, in letters to the editor to local media, at neighborhood board meetings and through sign-waving on the streets of Honolulu. She said she strongly supports HB 2514.

“Storing enormous amounts of fuel in underground tanks just above an island’s sole source aquifer is a disaster movie’s dream script,” she said.

Both bills passed out of the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Homelessness and the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection. Committee members also advanced bills that would allocate an unspecified amount of money to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply for emergency operations and require the Hawaii Department of Health to establish a local water testing lab. 

Red Hill well pipe will pump up to 5 million gallons of contaminated water to 8 tanks that contain granulated carbon to filter the contaminants and then be discharged thru these large pipes into the Halawa Stream.
To remediate the contamination, the military is pumping five million gallons of tainted water every day from the Red Hill well and running it through filtration tanks. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The Department of Health supported the proposal to establish a local lab.

DOH said it could conduct testing on water samples but also for driving under the influence cases, infectious diseases and other environmental issues.

It said such an institution would cost $100 million for construction, plus $10 million for equipment. Annual costs would include $1 million for personnel, $250,000 for testing supplies, $1 million for equipment service contracts and $600,000 for utility costs.

DOH took issue, however, with the money lawmakers want to allocate to the Board of Water Supply. Under the bill, the funds would come out of DOH’s underground storage tank fund, which the department said it needs to carry out its regulatory oversight.

“The bill as currently written would interfere with an important funding mechanism for the department’s ongoing work,” DOH said.

BWS would welcome the funding, according to Chief Engineer Ernie Lau. The civilian water utility has had to shutter the Halawa Shaft, a water source that used to serve 20% of the region from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai, along with two other wells.

“The BWS’ ability to manage its resources has already been significantly impacted by the numerous episodic fuel releases from the Red Hill facility and bolstering resources for emergency operations, future planning, and remediation is of critical importance to the BWS and its customers,” Lau wrote.

“Ensuring funding is available to the BWS to offset some of the costs already incurred and to support future water resource protection measures is an important first step,” he added.

Also Tuesday, the Honolulu City Council advanced Bill 48, which would require underground fuel tank operators to apply for a city permit and prove that facilities “will not leak any regulated substance into the environment during its operating life.” The bill has received written testimony in support from dozens of residents and local organizations. 

The Navy declined to comment on the city and state legislation. According to Navy spokeswoman Lydia Robertson, the Navy does not comment on “legislation that is under review,” even though public records show the Navy has done so in the past.

U.S. Army Maj. Amanda Feindt, a military housing resident impacted by the Navy's Red Hill water contamination crisis, met with members of Congress on Feb. 8, 2022.
Army Maj. Amanda Feindt, a military housing resident impacted by the water contamination crisis, has been an outspoken critic of the Navy’s response. Screenshot/2022

The Navy has maintained that it needs the Red Hill fuel facility to protect national security and to use as a “strategic reserve” for operations in the Pacific. On behalf of the military, the U.S. Department of Justice is fighting a state order to drain the tanks. Two legal appeals are currently pending in federal and state court.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Army Maj. Amanda Feindt and Navy wife Jamie Simic met with Congressional representatives and staffers and advocated for their families and neighbors who have been affected by the crisis.

Simic, who was hospitalized last fall after consuming fuel-tainted water, said the victims of the contamination are demanding to know what specific contaminants they consumed, but the Navy hasn’t provided sufficient detail.

She said they also want the military to test 100% of homes before declaring neighborhoods safe. The Navy has stated its intention to test only 10% of residences before inviting families back home. In addition, Simic wants the military to provide long-term medical care for people who were affected.

A mother of two, Feindt said she was so badly sickened by the water contamination that her abdominal pain felt like labor contractions. And her two children were both hospitalized with severe health issues including dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea, she said. 

“I believe that the Navy failed our children,” she said. “They didn’t raise their right hand. They didn’t volunteer for this.”

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?

About the Author