If Hawaii health officials fail to issue or deny a permit to the Navy’s Red Hill fuel tanks by Nov. 19, the permit will be automatically granted – unless the Sierra Club has its way.

Marti Townsend Dir. Sierra Club of Hawaii. 12 april 2016.
Sierra Club Director Marti Townsend is taking on the health department. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The environmental group filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health and requested a temporary restraining order on Thursday.

The goal is to stop health officials from automatically approving continued operations of the tanks which are a major threat to Oahu’s drinking water, according to the Navy’s own consultants. (The Navy has said it disagrees with that finding.)

Removing the Nov. 19 deadline, which marks 180 days from the Navy’s completion of its permit application, will give the Sierra Club more time to challenge the permit for the tanks in a contested case hearing with the health department.

“It is simply outrageous that the Department of Health would automatically approve the operation of the Red Hill fuel storage tanks while knowing that these tanks have an almost 30% chance of leaking up to 30,000 gallons each year,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Marti Townsend. “We are just not willing to accept this as normal. Our water is too valuable to risk like this.” 

In a statement, Hawaii Health Director Bruce Anderson said his department is reviewing the Sierra Club’s complaint with the attorney general’s office.

“DOH has already made known that a decision on the Navy’s permit application will not issue until the contested case and the public comment process have concluded, effectively staying the approval mechanism provided by rule,” he said. “Proposed administrative rule amendments related to the long-term future of underground storage tanks have also been published and are proceeding to public comment.”

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