The Navy may need one or two years to fix a litany of problems and safety hazards at the Red Hill fuel facility before the military can begin to defuel the troubled storage complex, according to a Navy contractor’s report released on Friday. 

Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. was hired by the Navy to conduct an independent assessment of the facility. The review was required by a state health department emergency order after fuel from Red Hill was found to have contaminated the drinking water of Pearl Harbor area residents. 

SGH identified “heavily corroded” structural columns and pipes, concrete cracking and spalling, “leakage” through the concrete tunnel walls and floor, and valves known to leak. The contractor also cited the need for lead abatement in many areas, according to a redacted version of the report.

A report by a military contractor shows corrosion at the Red Hill fuel facility.
A report by a military contractor shows corrosion at the Red Hill fuel facility. Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Inc./2022

There were several fire risks, according to the report. Cabinets holding flammable materials were not anchored to the floor, and a control room in the pump house is not blast-resistant. And in the event of an earthquake, SGH found the emergency generator might lose functionality. 

Some items that were previously labeled “satisfactory” by previous inspections were flagged as problematic by SGH, according to the report. 

Overall, SGH made more than 200 recommendations for repairs, according to the report. 

A report by a military contractor shows leakage at the Red Hill fuel facility.
Leakage was found in a Red Hill tunnel. Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Inc./2022

“A number of these will require repair prior to defueling whereas some will only be performed as part of ongoing (Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam) operations,” the report states.

The Hawaii Department of Health said on Friday that the repairs will be extensive and will involve the entire distribution system from Red Hill to the waters of Pearl Harbor. The Navy will need to develop new written procedures to reduce the risk of fuel releases, and personnel will require additional training to prevent spills, operate safely and respond to emergencies, DOH said.

Once the repair process is complete, the defense department estimates the actual defueling will take about a year.

“While the need to defuel Red Hill is urgent, public and environmental safety remain the first priority,” Kathleen Ho,  Hawaii’s deputy director of environmental health, said in a statement.

Under the DOH emergency order, the Navy is required to submit a plan and implementation schedule for defueling by June 30 and a plan for permanent closure of the facility by Nov. 1.

A report by a military contractor shows corrosion at the Red Hill fuel facility.
Severe corrosion was found in many areas at Red Hill. Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Inc./2022

The Navy did not respond to questions on Friday afternoon.

The new report is one of many that has come out over the years revealing major problems at Red Hill, said David Kimo Frankel, an environmental attorney representing the Sierra Club.

“Each report should have been enough for the Navy to realize that it was crazy to store fuel at the Red Hill facility,” he said. “This 2022 report is as head-spinning as the others. It describes a facility that should have been shut down decades ago.”

The latest report includes information that the Navy hadn’t previously disclosed during a legal dispute with the Sierra Club regarding the Navy’s application for a state permit, he said.

“If the Navy had any concern about safety, it would not have buried that information,” he said.

David Henkin, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, said he was troubled by the consultant’s proposed timeline.

“Particularly given the shocking documentation of the crumbling infrastructure at the Red Hill facility, we cannot allow the Navy to slow-walk the defueling,” he said in a statement. “Every day that fuel remains in the facility is another opportunity for a catastrophic accident.”

You can read the entire 880-page report here.  

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