HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - People crowded into a public meeting on Tuesday to weigh in on the U.S. Navy and Defense Logistics Agency's proposal to upgrade the underground storage tanks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.
“The strategic reserves are not as important as the clean water in Hawaii, and I’d like you guys to take some concrete action by emptying the tanks now,” said Nuuanu resident Alison Bhattacharyya.
A Navy spokesman told the audience at Moanalua Middle School that the fuel from Red Hill would be removed by 2045 if a secondary containment solution could not be found for the 20 tanks, which are each capable of holding more than 12 million gallons.
"We will continue to figure out, working with industry, working with academia, employing innovation as ideas come up, to try to find something that is practicable," said Capt. Marc Delao, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii.
Critics want the Navy to relocate the fuel because they're concerned about the possibility of a catastrophic leak that could contaminate a main source of drinking water for Honolulu.
"They need to invest appropriately, spend the amount of dollars necessary to keep it in operation if they must have it there," said Board of Water Supply manager Ernest Lau. "But we think a more viable option is to construct brand new aboveground storage tanks on military property, not over our drinking water aquifer."
The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are taking comments before deciding whether to approve or reject part or all of the proposal.
"The Navy has selected the least protective, least costly of the six options, and it's time for them to seriously consider relocation," said Jodi Malinoski, chapter policy advocate for the Sierra Club of Hawaii.
After 27,000 gallons of fuel leaked out in 2014, the Navy said it had improved its repair and maintenance program, boosted monitoring, and invested $162 million to modernize the facility.
The Navy also indicated that it is willing to look into the possible construction of a water treatment plant to use in the unlikely case of another major leak.
"The Navy is fully committed, fully committed to safeguarding the aquifer, making sure the water continues to stay safe. Again, I cannot overemphasize the water is safe. There are no leaks," said Delao.
Written comments on the proposal must be received by December 9.
There is no set date for the DOH and the EPA to make a decision.
“If the tanks are going to be remaining there for an appreciable amount of time, it is remaining an increasing threat to Oahu’s drinking water resources,” said Keith Kawaoka, DOH’s deputy director of Environmental Health Administration.