DOD announces new Red Hill task force charged with overseeing facility’s closure

The Department of Defense has created a new task force charged with coming up with a road map for closing the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 11:41 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 14, 2023 at 1:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Department of Defense has created a new task force charged with coming up with a road map for closing the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

A 2021 leak at the facility tainted the Navy’s water system at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and sickened thousands of people.

In a news release on Tuesday morning, officials said the Closure Task Force for Red Hill will be led by Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett who continue as commander of Navy Region Hawaii.

The Joint Task Force-Red Hill, commanded by Vice Adm. John Wade, is now overseeing the effort to empty the Red Hill facility of more than 100 million gallons of fuel.

Special Section: Navy Water Crisis

After gravity defueling is completed in January, there will be 64,000 gallons of residual fuel left.

The Pentagon says the joint task force will be responsible for pumping out 60,000 gallons of the remaining fuel by March.

“My commitment in addition to the safe defueling is to ensure a proper hand off and a deliberate transition,” Wade told Hawaii News Now.

The closure task force will then be responsible for taking out the remaining 4,000 by “destructive” means, including removing pipelines and drilling.

Court battle underway as Red Hill families accuse Navy leaders of destroying evidence

The closure task force would also have to remove 28,000 gallons of sludge.

“Once the defueling is complete, some of those experts are going to come over and join our team too so we are going to keep those resident experts on island working the process, but I do understand everyone’s concerns,” Barnett told Hawaii News Now.

Barnett said complete closure is expected to take 3.5 years after the closure task force takes over in spring.

“Joint Task Force-Red Hill and Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill will conduct a tightly-coordinated transition of command-and-control responsibilities to ensure seamless continuity,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy Installations, and Environment Brendan Owens, in a news release. He continued: “Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill will deliver on Secretary Austin’s commitment to permanently close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.”

Red Hill families who got sick from the Navy’s drinking water in 2021 after the fuel leaks are now suing the U-S government. They say Oahu’s water is still at risk as long as fuel and sludge are still in Red Hill.

“We are scared for the future of Oahu and military residents that are stationed here. This will continue to be a problem we fear,” said plaintiff Richelle Dietz who lives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

“It makes me a little nervous that this responsibility is being given back to the Navy considering that they have been the ones that have neglected this facility and all of its dangers,” said Wayne Tanaka, Sierra Club of Hawaii director.

To see the supplemental defueling plan, click here.