The Senate Committees on Health and Agriculture and Environment held a hearing this afternoon to consider a bill that would prohibit the operation of, and renewal of, underground fuel storage tank permits located within one-half mile from an aquifer. This bill could have big implications for the Navy’s underground Red Hill fuel storage facility.
SB 2172 was introduced by state Sen. Glen Wakai and co-sponsored by several Senate members.
“We appreciate and support the intent of this measure,” Kathleen Ho, deputy director of Environmental Health, told lawmakers.
A fuel leak in May tainted the Navy’s Red Hill drinking water system that serves about 93,000 residents in neighborhoods in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The facility sits above a critical aquifer that supplies Oahu with drinking water.
The Hawaii Department of Health and Honolulu Board of Water Supply testified in favor of the bill along with several community groups.
The Navy initially fought an Department of Health emergency order issued in December to defuel the Red Hill tanks, which can store up to 250 million gallons of fuel, until earlier in January Navy officials told Congress they would comply with the order. However, the emergency order allows the Navy to refuel them later if the service can meet certain requirements to demonstrate it can operate them safely.
State and federal agencies, including the Navy, have been working around the clock on trying to clean out and decontaminate the drinking water system. In addition to thousands of military families, the Navy’s water system also serves several schools and businesses.
The measure received broad support, but several witnesses called for amendments and changes to the bill’s language out of concern that it left open loopholes that could allow the Navy to continue operating the Red Hill facility, as well as language that could have impacts on civilian businesses nearby the aquifer.
In a written testimony, Honolulu Board of Water Supply manager and chief engineer Ernie Lau said he supported the proposal with amendments.
“The need to preserve and protect groundwater quality and quantity now and into the future outweighs the continued operation of large field-constructed USTs (underground fuel storage tanks) without secondary containment,” Lau said in a statement.
State Senate members agreed to make a series of amendments and to further discuss the bill.
Watch a replay of the livestream video above.