Despite accelerated timeline, military’s Red Hill plan doesn’t account for up to 400,000 gallons of fuel

The Joint Task Force-Red Hill in charge of defueling the underground storage tanks initially said defueling could be complete by mid 2024
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 12:48 PM HST|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 5:44 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Department of Defense has released an ambitious timeline for defueling the underground Red Hill facility, saying that crews will begin emptying the tanks in October.

Joint Task Force-Red Hill included the new timeline in a supplementary plan filed with the EPA.

The agency said defueling will kick off Oct. 16 and focus on 104 million gallons of fuel in the tanks.

That fuel should be emptied from the tanks by January 2024, leaving 100,000 to 400,000 gallons remaining.

The DOD said it is still finalizing a plan for emptying that last remaining fuel.

SPECIAL SECTION: Navy Water Crisis

“This supplement to the defueling plan presents a detailed roadmap and timeline for work we must accomplish and identifies the conditions that need to be met to begin the safe and expeditious removal of fuel from the facility ahead of our original plan,” said Vice Adm. John Wade, commander, JTF-Red Hill, in a news release.

“It describes responsibilities, approvals, and safety requirements that need to be accomplished for each step. Defueling Supplement 2 is a result of finding efficiencies in our facility repair and defueling process. We are grateful for the collective partnership, collaboration and coordination of the EPA and DOH.”

In an interview Wednesday with Hawaii News Now, the spokesman for Joint Task Force-Red Hill described the fuel remaining after the tanks are mostly emptied. “We are not exactly sure how much is going to be left because it’s going to be in low points, it’s going to be in turns and flanges,” said U.S. Navy Commander Nico Melendez.

“The gravity defueling, the draining of the fuel into Hotel Pier onto tankers is going to remove 99.85% of the fuel at the facility.”

The Department of Defense agreed to defuel the tanks in the wake of spills in 2021, which contaminated the drinking water for more than 90,000 households and sickened thousands.

Groups like the Sierra Club of Hawaii have been pushing the military to speed up the timeline and are worried about the remaining fuel.

Wayne Tanaka, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said up to 400,000 gallons of remaining fuel is a “huge amount ... to have 100 feet over our groundwater aquifer.”

He added, “Right now, there is 5,000 gallons of fuel that’s in our aquifer that’s unaccounted for that’s already caused all kinds of chaos.”

The Sierra Club said its reaction to the accelerated timeline is “skeptical relief.”

Tanaka said he is pleased that the military will use sodium bicarbonate or baking soda rather than toxic firefighting foam as a fire suppression method during the defueling process.

“I think what the public needs to know is the worst-case scenario, a spill, an AFFF mishap, is it a fire, we are practicing for any scenario,” said Melendez.

To read the full supplementary report, click here.