Members of the public packed Moanalua Middle School cafeteria last night, many calling for the Navy to move its Red Hill fuel tanks away from drinking water aquifers.
In 2014, 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked from the tanks and threatened drinking water on Oahu. Residents and officials have been calling for changes ever since.
After the leak, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health negotiated a binding agreement with the Navy to address fuel releases and implement improvements to protect the public health and the environment.
Earlier this month, the Navy stated that it favored improvements to its single-wall fuel tanks and additional leak monitoring, but has recently committed to exploring ways to implement a double-wall or secondary containment option.
“I want to lead with this premise . . . the Navy’s commitment to finding secondary containment solutions,” said Navy Capt. Marc Delao at an EPA and health department hearing Tuesday night. “Our commitment is that what is not achievable today or practicable today we are committed to figuring that out.”
However, that commitment has not been enough to placate some local officials and environmental groups.
Ernie Lau, Hawaii Board of Water Supply chief engineer, expressed concerns that the Navy’s idea of a double-wall containment may not be as secure as the board would want.
“We’re thinking of a double-wall tank, or a tank-within-a-tank, with the space between the inner wall and outer wall big enough for workers to go in and inspect and repair the inner tank,” said Lau. “Calling [it] a double-wall equivalency secondary containment still relies on the existing quarter-inch steel plate that’s rusting, that was installed 76 years ago.”
Jodi Malinoski, Sierra Club of Hawaii policy advocate, echoed Lau’s concerns. She wanted to know what exactly “double-wall secondary equivalent” means, as it is not an official term, she said.
“The problem with the Navy’s proposal is that it is using and relying on some unknown, undefined technology to sufficiently upgrade the tanks to 2045,” she said. “They don’t know what that means. They are exploring technologies. Our issue with that is we can’t wait for that to happen.”
Delao explained that if the Navy is unable to come up with an adequate solution to the security of the tanks by 2045, they would be defueled -- meaning, they would be emptied -- and the facility would be moved.
Leona Robinson was one of the many residents who called for the immediate removal of the tanks.
“Start now, don’t wait until 2045. It’s time to move the tanks,” she said. “The United States has the responsibility to protect these islands and its water.”
Delao said he would work with regulators on what is doable and, if no answer is reached, then when the Navy would look to relocate.
There is no specific deadline for the Hawaii Department of Health or the Environmental Protection Agency to accept the Navy’s plans. However, if the two parties disagree, the EPA can override the state health department’s decision.
The Department of Health has scheduled another public meeting on Dec. 2 at 9 a.m. at the State’s Laboratory Auditorium, 2725 Waimano Home Rd. in Pearl City, to discuss proposed changes to the administrative rules covering underground fuel storage tanks.