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Kahele, Case introduce federal bill to permanently shut down Red Hill facility

U.S. Reps. Kai Kahele and Ed Case have introduced federal legislation aimed at permanently shutting down the Navy’s Red Hill facility.
Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 10:57 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 11, 2022 at 5:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Amid an ongoing water contamination crisis that’s displaced thousands of families and threatened Oahu’s water supply, U.S. Reps. Kai Kahele and Ed Case have introduced federal legislation aimed at permanently shutting down the Navy’s Red Hill facility whose underground storage tanks hold 180 million gallons of fuel just 100 feet above a main aquifer.

The two made the announcement at a news conference at the state Capitol building that was also attended by state lawmakers, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and members of the community.

“The Navy has shown repeatedly that they are ill equipped and incapable of making Red Hill safe,” Kahele said, at the news conference. “We will not stop fighting until this contamination crisis is fixed, our drinking water is safe and the Red Hill facility is closed permanently.”

“No more contamination of our wai. We will protect this wai as long as we live here in this island,” said Board of Water Supply chief engineer and manager, Ernie Lau.

“I want to be on record right now, I am support of defueling the tanks at Red Hill as the Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu with no apprehension,” said Blangiardi.

Also Friday, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz announced he’d introduce companion legislation to shut down Red Hill. The measure also includes reimbursements to the city and state for costs incurred with the crisis.

The House measure would:

  • Discontinue all fuel operations at the Red Hill underground fuel storage facility;
  • Defuel all the bulk storage tanks by the end of 2022;
  • Permanently close the facility in accordance with EPA protocols;
  • and fund environmental remediation linked to the November 2021 spill at the facility;

The congressmen say there are four paths to a permanent shut down; the president, the Pentagon, the state’s emergency order or convincing their colleagues in Congress.

Case said there is work underway to get bipartisan support for the measure.

“Once we really put this crisis in context once we start talking about alternatives, I think they are going to be on board and they already are,” he said.

During Friday’s event, an aide displayed a large poster of a baby with rashes all over her body.

“Kaia’s doctor would later confirm with Steve and Amy that their daughter at just three months old had suffered chemical burns to her body,” said Kahele, at the news conference.

Others also talked about how their health has been impacted.

Resident Lacey Quintero lives at military housing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and says her family’s urine tests came back Friday morning showing high levels of chemicals even though they had stopped drinking the fuel tainted water almost a month before they were tested.

“It’s just confirming what I already knew. It’s much worse than I thought. My husband and I were in tears seeing the results,” said Quintero.

Kahele told Hawaii News Now the financial cost of the crisis likely exceeds half a billion taxpayer dollars. There’s $403 million in a federal spending bill for Red Hill, which includes $100 million to drain the tanks, while Navy leaders said in January the total cost of the crisis so far was $250 million.

An email from Admiral Samuel J. Pacaro, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, said lodging and benefit claims alone have cost $5.8 million with nearly 4,000 families in temporary lodging.

“There’s a lot of money being spent right now and it didn’t have to happen,” said Kahele.

The crisis dates back to Thanksgiving, when families on the Navy’s water line started reporting illnesses after drinking or using the water and said their taps smelled strongly of fuel.

The line serves 93,000 households and its water is still not safe to drink.

Meanwhile, the public water system has been forced to stop using three separate wells for fear the spilled fuel could migrate, contaminating water sources that serve much of the urban core.

The Red Hill fuel tanks sit above the groundwater aquifer that serves as the principal source of drinking water for Oahu. Largely because of that, the state ordered the Navy in December to empty the underground tanks, say they posed an imminent risk to public health.

The Navy is fighting that order in court.

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