Rep. Kai Kahele said the Navy has displayed “horrifying negligence” in its operations at the Red Hill fuel facility and is demanding answers to questions about the latest leak of toxic firefighting chemicals at the complex, according to a letter he sent to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro on Friday.

2022 HNN Debate Gubernatorial candidate Kai Kahele debates Vicky Cayetano and Josh Green at the Sheraton Hotel.
Rep. Kai Kahele wants answers by Dec. 16. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The recent spill of an estimated 1,100 gallons of concentrated aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, is “egregious and completely unacceptable,” he wrote.

It is even more unimaginable, he said, given the scrutiny the facility is currently under. After fuel from Red Hill contaminated the drinking water of thousands of people last year, the facility has been closely watched by the public, media, activists and government agencies, he noted.

“It should be deeply worrying for the Navy and Department of Defense that even under the present context, another failure of this magnitude can occur,” Kahele wrote.

The crisis threatens to undermine the relationship between Hawaii and the military at large, he said.

“The ongoing crisis at Red Hill has resulted in a nearly ubiquitous erosion of public trust in the Navy across the State of Hawaiʻi,” he said. “Importantly, this deepening trust deficit not only affects the Navy, but indeed the entirety of the U.S. Armed Forces and their ability to maintain relationships and operations across our state. Rebuilding this broken trust will require long-term, monumental efforts.”

The congressman, who will leave office in January following an unsuccessful run for governor, requested answers by Dec. 16 to a number of questions, including a full list of private contractors at Red Hill and details about how they are held accountable. The Navy said last week that its contractor Kinetix installed the valve that leaked the AFFF and was also running the system at the time of the incident.

Rep. Ed Case, who represents the area affected by Red Hill, and Sen. Brian Schatz have not issued public statements about the AFFF leak. Sen. Mazie Hirono tweeted last week that “continued challenges with DOD infrastructure raise a lot of questions and concerns.”

“I expect a full report from the Navy on how this happened and how they plan to resolve it as quickly as possible to ensure it doesn’t have lasting impacts to the environment or slow down the defueling of the facility,” she said.

Meanwhile, Navy Vice Adm. John Wade, who commands the Red Hill Joint Task Force, has appointed Maj. Gen. Richard Heitkamp of the U.S. Army Reserve to investigate the leak of AFFF. His investigation should be complete within 30 days, the Navy said in a press release on Friday. The Navy said on Monday that it will share video of the incident with state and federal regulators but not with the public until there comes a time that doing so would not interfere with the investigation.

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