In surprise move, DOD drops appeals to Hawaii’s emergency order over Red Hill

The Department of Defense has dropped its federal and state appeals of the Hawaii Department of Health’s emergency order to empty the Red Hill fuel tanks.
Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 5:08 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 23, 2022 at 12:06 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Department of Defense has dropped its federal and state appeals of the Hawaii Department of Health’s emergency order to empty the Red Hill fuel tanks.

The state Department of Health called the decision a step forward, and environmentalists are hopeful the decision means the Navy will focus on safely getting the fuel out of the Red Hill Tanks quickly.

“The Navy dropping its appeals means that finally, after months, the Navy has agreed that we all face imminent peril from the Red Hill facility,” said attorney David Henkin, of Earthjustice.

It’s been nearly five months since the fuel leak from the Red Hill Bulk Storage Facility forced thousands of people out of their homes, sickened families and put the public aquifer at risk.

Henkins said although it has been weeks since DOH gave the all clear for impacted residents to return home, the facility is still a threat.

Activists, residents and Congress have been fighting the Navy to drop the case.

“You had veterans, servicemembers themselves, you couldn’t find a single person that was taking the Navy’s side, and that’s what I said to the secretary, this is bigger than Red Hill,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.

The DOD had previously announced it would drain the tanks, but didn’t drop the appeals amid broader legal disagreements over whether the state could direct the Navy to take action on the issue.

Henkin said as long as fuel remains in the tanks “our supply is not safe.”

“And so having finally given up the legal maneuvering, we’re hopeful that the Navy is going to focus entirely on cleaning up the mess and defueling those tanks so that we can all feel safe when we open our taps.”

On Friday, the Oahu Water Protectors alongside numerous advocacy groups protested in Kahuku over the military’s plans to build a missile defense radar.

Healani Sonoda-Pale, of Oahu Water Protectors, said while today is a victory, the trust is gone.

“After what happened with Red Hill and the situation with our water, we’re in a crisis right now,” said Sonoda-Pale. “We cannot trust the military to start another project in another community where they could do the same damage to this community’s land, water and natural resources.”

DOH said Friday’s dismissal is a testament to the people who spoke out in protection of the island’s water and the aquifer. But the Health Department also said there’s still a lot of work left to do.

“We’ll continue to conduct oversight to make sure that Red Hill is safely defueled and decommissioned,” said DOH Communications Director Kaitlin Arita-Chang.

“And we also continue to monitor what’s happening in the aquifer and make sure that we can understand how to keep our drinking water safe for all Hawaii residents. But beyond that, there will be years of work to restore the aquifer.”

According to DOH’s emergency order, the Navy needs to empty the tanks within 30 days.

Military officials have promised to come up with a plan for how to defuel the underground facility, which triggered the Navy water crisis and continues to threaten the public aquifer.

There’s no timeline yet for when the tanks will be emptied.

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