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Column: Military remains too quiet about plans for Red Hill future

COURTESY U.S. ARMY
                                Workers relocated contaminated soil in December, part of a hazardous-material spill operation at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.
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COURTESY U.S. ARMY

Workers relocated contaminated soil in December, part of a hazardous-material spill operation at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

Buried deep in the 4,408 pages of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was a “hidden” caution concerning the closing and defueling of the Red Hill jet fuel tanks — that upon it coming to light, is giving citizens heartburn, and a scare.

According to a March 5 Star-Advertiser article (“Military spending act stirs defueling concerns”), the NDAA requires, before defueling of those massive tanks can begin, a certification from Department of Defense that closing Red Hill will not affect Indo-Pacific military operations.

Up to this point — four months after the passage of the NDAA and until the article, despite intense public interest in the defueling and closure of the Red Hill facility — neither Hawaii’s U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono nor Brian Schatz, nor U.S. Rep. Ed Case mentioned the certification requirement in their press releases about the $1 billion for Red Hill’s defueling and closure and the $800 million for other military infrastructure upgrades in Hawaii passed in the NDAA for 2023.

Hirono reportedly said she “didn’t advocate for the notification requirement,” but her office said it was a priority of the Republicans and was agreed to as a compromise to ensure the senator’s other Red Hill provisions made it into the NDAA.

The military certainly didn’t mention the certification requirement either.

The extensive repairs that DOD maintains are necessary to safely defuel the tanks (repairs that were not considered necessary in using fuel from the tanks prior to the November 2021 spill), coupled with DOD’s leanings to keep the tanks-and-pipe infrastructure in the ground after defueling of the tanks, have raised concerns that the fuel facility could be used again by DOD despite military officials saying they plan to make the tanks unusable for fuel storage.

With comments about Chinese aggression coming daily from the Department of Defense and U.S. State Department officials, the multiple U.S. and NATO naval armadas in the South China Sea and large ground military war games on the Korean peninsula, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s decision to not yet sign the certification is an indication that DOD will again play its national security card.

Despite statements from the commander of the Red Hill Joint Task Force that he will be forthcoming and transparent about the cleanup of the multiple disasters at Red Hill, Adm. John Wade and his staff have not succeeded in transparency or trust with the community.

The task force has not issued timely updates on events concerning Red Hill contamination and defueling, or on the November spill of 1,300 gallons of firefighting aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, or “forever chemicals”). The last news release on the AFFF/PFAS spill was months ago, on Dec. 27, 2022.

The Navy still has not made public the video of the AFFF spill and has not completed its investigation of the spill, requiring an extension from the state Department of Health. Nor has the task force revealed where the 3,000 cubic feet of AFFF-contaminated soil was moved. In contrast, the locations of disposal for the contaminated soil removed from the East Palestine, Ohio, chemical train wreck was publicized immediately and several states objected to disposal in their toxic waste locations.

Our government officials, military and civilian, have a long way to go before they are trusted by the public here.

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