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Hawai‘i Leaders Praise Decision to Shut Down Red Hill

By Tom Hasslinger
March 7, 2022, 4:11 PM HST
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Hawai‘i lawmakers from the governor to representatives at the local levels applauded the Navy’s decision on Monday to shut down its Red Hill underground fuel storage facility.

The Pentagon announced its plans March 7 to permanently close the facility on O’ahu amid an ongoing contaminated water crisis.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in statement that bulk fuel storage of Red Hill’s magnitude likely made sense in 1943, when Red Hill was built, but closing it “makes a lot less sense now.”

He said that by May 31, the Secretary of the Navy and Defense Logistics Agency will provide a plan for the “safe and expeditious defueling of the facility, with a completion target of 12 months.”

The Navy’s immediate action plans can be viewed here.

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Hawai‘i’s governor, federal and state representatives, the Department of Health, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and several other groups and offices unilaterally praised the decision. 

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“This is great news for the people of Hawaiʻi,” Gov. David Ige said. “Our national defense begins with the health and safety of our people, and there are better solutions for strategic fueling today than there were when the Red Hill storage facility was built. We look forward to working with the Navy to safely defuel and permanently close the storage facility.”

Hawaii’s legislative leaders echoed the governor’s sentiments. A press conference  held at the Capitol in Honolulu attended by several of the members was used to delivered similar remarks. 

“The U.S. Department of Defense’s decision to permanently close Red Hill is the right decision,” House Speaker Scott K. Saiki stated. “This decision will protect Oahu’s water supply and residents. The House of Representatives will work with the Navy to implement the closure.”

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Director of Health Dr. Elizabeth Char said the Navy’s decision was also the right decision to protect the environment as a whole.

“This decision comes late for the Navy water system users who have borne the greatest burden of this humanitarian disaster, but it’s nevertheless reassuring that the imminent threat posed by this troubled facility will finally be addressed,” she said. “We are anxiously awaiting receipt of the DOD’s written plan and a path forward to ensure independence of the Navy’s contractor.”

The crisis came to light back in November when families along the Navy’s water line started reporting illnesses after drinking or using the water and said their water taps smelled of fuel.

The Navy identified a fuel leak on May 6, 2021, as the probable reason for the water contamination that infiltrated the military families’ water taps around Thanksgiving time. Fuel from that leak reportedly made its way into a fire suppression drain pipe that burst on Nov. 20, when it was hit with a cart.

Since that time Hawai‘i’s political leaders have been putting pressure on the Navy to shut it down, including by introducing legislation at the federal level.

“We acknowledge and celebrate the hard work of our elected and government officials, community organizations, and every single individual who stood, fought, and made their voices heard to help protect our most precious water resources,” OHA board chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey said.  

Austin said in his statement that the closure will be a multi-step process, but “it is the right thing to do.”

“Throughout the process, we will work closely with the Hawai‘i Department of Health and with the Environmental Protection Agency to safely defuel the Red Hill facility,” he stated. “We will move to permanently close the Red Hill facility, including conducting any and all necessary environmental remediation around the facility.”

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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