BWS chief engineer: Navy’s proposed timeline for emptying Red Hill fuel tanks is ‘unacceptable’

He also said it was “alarmingly devoid of detail.”
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 11:49 AM HST|Updated: Jul. 2, 2022 at 6:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Board of Water Supply Manager and Chief Engineer Ernest Lau on Friday called the Navy’s long-awaited plan for emptying the underground Red Hill fuel facility “alarmingly devoid of detail.”

He also said the timeline for defueling ― with the tanks empty no earlier than Dec. 31, 2024 ― “unacceptable.”

RELATED COVERAGE: Navy probe: ‘Cascading,’ preventable failures caused water crisis that sickened thousands

The statements come a day after the defueling plan was released along with a damning Navy investigation that found a series of “cascading” and preventable failures were to blame for the contamination of the Navy’s water system.

Thousands were sickened by the contaminated water and authorities say fuel continues to threaten the public water system.

[Read the Navy’s plan for defueling the Red Hill tanks by clicking here.]

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In a news conference Friday, Lau noted that the Navy’s suggested timeline includes a long list of needed repairs to the deteriorating WWII-era tanks and “stands in stark contrast to repeated assurances from the Navy over the last several years that the Red Hill tanks and pipelines are properly designed ... and that each tank can be emptied in less than 24 hours.”

The tanks hold more than 100 million gallons of fuel and sit just above Oahu’s main aquifer.

“The defueling of the Red Hill facility calls for immediate action,” Lau said.

In a news conference Thursday, the Navy said its plan presented the safest, most efficient framework for emptying the tanks.

Friday, Lau tried to contain his emotions as he spoke of a new detail from the report.

“So the first thing I thought there, my goodness last year there was actually fuel in Red Hill shaft in that water development tunnel floating on the water. It was heavily contaminated,” he said.

He’s speaking of a lava tube carrying water from the Red Hill shaft which may explain how the fuel contaminated water spread so quickly.

“Lava can move freely through that lava tube so where did it go and how far is the fuel spreading in our aquifer,” said Lau.

In his 2014 letter to the Navy, Lau said he had ‘serious concerns about past fuel releases.’

“A small release of several thousand gallons could produce a groundwater plume that impacts the Navy’s Red Hill shaft water supply,” he wrote.

It was a prediction of the current disaster.

“Unfortunately those pleas have largely gone unheeded,” Lau said on Friday.

The Department of Defense has established a new organization solely focused on defueling Red Hill.

“We all understand the safe draining of the Red Hill facility is not business as usual for the Department of Defense,” said Admiral John Aquilino, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command.

“This massive Red Hill facility was built between 1940 and 1943 in three years. It’s going to take them two and a half years to empty out the tanks of 104 million gallons of fuel. That’s simply not acceptable,” said Lau.

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