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Hawaii Health Department upholds emergency order directing Navy to empty Red Hill fuel tanks

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Navy divers work to extract petroleum from the top layer of a water well at Red Hill in December. Petroleum from the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is being blamed for contaminating the water for tens of thousands residents in the area.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Navy divers work to extract petroleum from the top layer of a water well at Red Hill in December. Petroleum from the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is being blamed for contaminating the water for tens of thousands residents in the area.

The Hawaii Department of Health is standing by its emergency order instructing the Navy to drain its Red Hill fuel tanks and correct deficiencies at the fuel facility before seeking state permission to resume operations.

The Navy has been fighting the Dec. 6 emergency order through an administrative hearing process that culminated today with DOH Deputy Director Marian Tsuji issuing a final decision that upheld the order in its entirety, as recommended by David Day, the DOH hearing officer overseeing the case.

The Navy can appeal the decision in court, but has not said whether it intends to do so.

In upholding the emergency order, Tsuji summarily dismissed 43 pages of objections that the Navy submitted last week laying out its objections to Day’s findings and conclusions in the case.

Day, after presiding over 13-plus hours of oral arguments and testimony, concluded that the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is a “ticking time bomb” that was guaranteed to continue to leak fuel. He also said that the fuel facility posed an imminent peril to human health and the environment.

RELATED STORY: Board of Water Supply says 3 Oahu wells may never reopen after latest Navy contamination

In its objections to Day’s findings, the Navy said that the state lacked the statutory authority to issue the emergency order and that many of Day’s conclusions lacked supporting evidence.

Tsuji did not delve into the rationale behind her final decision. Her brief written order noted that she had reviewed the entirety of evidence in the case, including the Navy’s objections, and concluded that Day’s proposed order “accurately and completely states the relevant facts and accurately states the applicable law.”

The emergency order was issued after users of the Navy’s water system in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam began reporting a fuel or chemical odor coming from their faucets in late November. They also reported health effects associated with drinking and having contact with petroleum contaminated water, including skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches.

DOH later confirmed through tests that the Navy’s Red Hill drinking water shaft was grossly contaminated with jet fuel.

The Navy says it believes the source of contamination is a Nov. 20 pipe rupture at its Red Hill fuel facility. The World War II facility includes 18 active, underground tanks, each the height of a 23-story building. For the past eight years, environmental regulators, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and environmental activists have expressed fears that fuel leaks from the facility would contaminate the aquifer that provides drinking water for Oahu.

The state’s emergency order specifically requires the Navy do the following:

>> Continue to suspend operations at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, including fuel transfers.

>> Take immediate steps to install a drinking water treatment system at its Red Hill shaft to ensure the water conforms to the Safe Drinking Water Act and minimize the movement of the contaminant plume.

>> Submit a plan and implementation schedule for safely draining the Red Hill fuel tanks that identifies any needed corrective actions. The plan must be prepared by a third party, approved by DOH.

>> Within 30 days of completing any corrective actions, remove fuel from all the tanks

>> Within 30 days, submit a plan and implementation schedule, prepared by a third party approved by DOH, for assessing the safety of the Red hill facility that looks at design and operational deficiencies.

DOH has said that after satisfying the emergency order, and fixing any safety deficiencies at the Red Hill facility, the Navy can then come back and ask the state for a permit to continue operating the facility.

DOH Final-Decision-On Red Hill Order by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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