State lawmakers have advanced a bill aimed at forcing the Navy to speed up upgrades at its Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility. The aging underground storage tanks hold millions of gallons of fuel for the military.
Since 27,000 gallons leaked from a tank in 2014, the Board of Water Supply has been concerned about the potential for future contamination.
"We're talking about a fuel facility underground, constructed in World War II, and it's the same steel plate that's a quarter-inch thick that's keeping the fuel from leaking out in the environment. It's been there 74, 75 years," said BWS manager Ernie Lau.
Senate Bill 1259 would require presently unregulated field-constructed underground storage tanks to comply with regulatory requirements. The Navy would have to upgrade its Red Hill tanks by 2027 or close the facility by 2030.
Navy officials oppose the measure, saying they're already working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health on improvements through an Administrative Order on Consent. DOH officials are also against the bill.
"We recently completed annual tank tightness testing that shows that none of the operational tanks at Red Hill are leaking. We continue to do monthly drinking water sampling," said Capt. Rich Hayes, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii.
The Red Hill facility is 100 feet above a main aquifer, a layer of saturated rock through which water can easily move.
"The drinking water is safe, but it's also true that the groundwater is showing signs of contamination, and it's also true that we have no guarantee against future leaks. This particular facility in particular has leaked multiple times," said Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii.
The bill sets deadlines to install highly-sensitive leak detection systems, corrosion protection and secondary containment for tanks.
"We are not wanting to rush to any judgment or potentially rush to a failure by not doing the deliberate steps that would ensure it's the best solution for Red Hill," said Hayes.