Navy agrees to remove fuel from Hawaii tank facility

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HONOLULU – After initially resisting, the US Navy will comply with Hawaii’s order to remove fuel from a massive underground storage tank near Pearl Harbor, accused of contaminating drinking water, said Tuesday officials.

The Navy is preparing to clear the facility, Rear Admiral Blake Converse said during a U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on readiness.

“The Navy caused this problem, we own it and we are going to fix it,” said Converse, deputy commander of the US Pacific Fleet.

The Navy’s water system serves some 93,000 people in homes, offices, elementary schools and businesses in and around Pearl Harbor. As of the end of November, around 1,000 people complained that tap water smelled like fuel or reported physical ailments such as nausea and rashes after ingesting it.

After oil was detected in a drinking water well, Hawaii ordered the Navy to drain fuel from tanks to protect Oahu’s drinking water. Navy officials said the state order was unnecessary because a November 20 spill, which they believed contaminated the water, occurred in an access tunnel and they did not didn’t think the tanks themselves were to blame.

The Navy challenged the order, triggering a hearing in December before a deputy state attorney general. The hearing officer concluded that the tanks were a “time bomb” and that order should be maintained.

The Red Hill facility contains 20 giant underground reservoirs built into the mountainside during WWII. Each tank is roughly the height of a 25-story building. Collectively, they can hold up to 250 million gallons of fuel, although two of the tanks are empty.

Converse said Tuesday that Admiral Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, ordered the order to be enforced when the Hawaii Department of Health finalized it last week.

The Navy believes its water supply system was contaminated with jet fuel that leaked from pipes connected to reservoirs at Red Hill. He detected jet fuel in a well that taps into an aquifer just 100 feet below the reservoir complex.

So far, only the Navy’s drinking water has been contaminated. The oil did not make its way into the municipal water supply system operated by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply. But the public service draws water from the same aquifer as the Navy.

Hawaii officials fear that the oil could migrate through the aquifer from the Navy well area to the water department’s Halawa well and poison the city’s drinking water. The Board of Water Supply has suspended use of its Halawa well, which supplies about a quarter of the water consumed in the city of Honolulu, in an attempt to prevent oil from infecting its water supply system.

Wayne Tanaka, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, which has long fought to shut down tanks, welcomed the Navy’s decision to comply with the order.

“I hope they finally see the light and recognize that the installation is an inherent danger to our water supply,” Tanaka said.

He said the state Department of Health, the Hawaii congressional delegation and others should ensure the Navy meets the deadlines set in the department’s order.

The Navy is to submit an implementation and work plan by early February. After the Department of Health approves the plan, the Navy has 30 days to empty the tanks.

“We fully expect the Navy to follow the law in complying with the final order,” said Katie Arita-Chang, spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Health.

Not operating the facility will have minimal impact, but continuing beyond February will come at a cost, Converse said, although he said he did not have details on costs or safety risks. national.

“Be clear, clean drinking water is a national security,” US Representative Kaiali’i Kahele from Hawaii said at the hearing.

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