The U.S. Navy’s plan to protect Oahu’s drinking water from the threat of its World War II-era underground fuel tanks is “deficient,” according to state and federal officials who rejected the military’s proposal in a letter sent on Monday.

The plan was required under an administrative order of consent that was put in place after 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked from a tank in 2014. The military was supposed to propose a solution with the “best available practicable technology” that would prevent the Red Hill tanks from leaking contaminants into Oahu’s drinking water aquifer.

The military proposed inventing a novel way to achieve “double wall equivalency” – a tank within a tank, or something similar. If that couldn’t be done, the Navy said it would drain the fuel at Red Hill, but not until around 2045.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaii Department of Health said the military did not demonstrate that its plan is the “most protective of the groundwater and drinking water resources,” among other issues. They are asking the Navy and Defense Logistics Agency to fix problems with their proposal and resubmit a plan.

Jodi Malinoski, a policy advocate for the Sierra Club of Hawaii, has said the Navy’s proposal represents the “least expensive, least protective option,” and officials rightfully rejected it.

“This is the latest example of how the Navy does not take the protection of Oʻahu’s drinking water seriously,” she said. “It’s been five years and still the Navy can’t provide a meaningful plan to protect our water from their antiquated tanks. Maybe that is because the tanks can’t be adequately upgraded, which means they should be retired.”

The military’s WWII-era underground fuel tanks in California were replaced in 2013.

“The Navy remains committed to keep the water safe to drink while safely operating the storage facility that is vital to the defense of our nation and also available to support the State in times of crisis,” Navy Capt. James Meyer, the commanding officers for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii, said in a statement.

“The Navy continues to work with regulators to meet the AOC requirements and remains committed to finding a solution for secondary containment or removal of the fuel in the 2045 timeframe.”

The Hawaii Fuel Tank Advisory Committee will meet on Friday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. via Zoom. Information on that meeting and submitting public comments is here.

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