With conditional DOH approval, Navy gets green light to begin first phase of Red Hill defueling

The state Department of Health announced Friday that it has conditionally approved the first phase of the Navy’s revised plan to empty Red Hill.
Published: Oct. 7, 2022 at 9:04 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 7, 2022 at 5:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Health announced Friday that it has conditionally approved the first phase of the Navy’s revised plan to empty the Red Hill underground fuel facility.

It’s the first significant removal of fuel from the Red Hill system.

The Navy’s “unpacking” phase focuses on removing fuel from three pipelines.

Officials said removing the fuel from the pipes will allow the Navy to safely begin critical repairs to the World War II-era tanks to prevent additional spills before the work of defueling them begins.

With the conditional approval, the Navy is slated to start emptying the pipelines of fuel in the next few weeks, the state Health Department said.

Commander overseeing Red Hill’s defueling says he’s ‘committed to getting this right’

SPECIAL SECTION: Navy Water Crisis

“Every moment the fuel remains in the pipelines and the tanks could lead to a catastrophic release, which would forever impact the citizens of Hawaii,” said Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho.

The Health Department must still approve a repair plan and defueling plan before the next phases can move forward. The tanks hold about 100 million gallons of fuel and sit just above a key aquifer, making the work of defueling fraught with potential risks to Oahu’s water supply and the environment.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, applauded the DOH conditional approval.

“This is a positive step toward defueling and shutting down Red Hill. DoD must continue to work with state officials and community leaders as quickly as possible,” he said, in a news release.

“There’s no turning back, and there’s no time to waste.

The Navy’s proposed plan for emptying the tanks is set to cost about $280 million and would be completed by July 2024. Fuel leaks from Red Hill contaminated the Navy’s water system last year, triggering a months-long crisis that sickened thousands and required a massive clean-up effort.

Indeed, the other big item of unfinished business from the Red Hill fuel crisis is cleaning up the contamination of the Red Hill well. Water from the well is being pumped through huge carbon filters and dumped into Halawa Stream to flow to the ocean.

At that rate, more than a billion gallons of water have been wasted since February.

That’s a big frustration for the department, which has been demanding a plan for the base to reuse the filtered water.

“For watering the lawn or their golf courses or other things where we’re asking the Navy for a plan for that,” Ho said. She added the Navy is clearly concentrating on the defueling, and the state has no received plan or recent update from the Navy about how the decontamination process is going or when it will end.