Editorial: Don’t stall on Red Hill fuel tanks

EDITORIAL | OUR VIEW

When in doubt, delay. That strategy might be palatable for the Navy when dealing with its aging fuel tanks embedded in Red Hill, but it’s not good enough for Oahu residents who depend on the pure aquifer located just 100 feet below the tanks.

Navy officials on Thursday said they would commit to remove the fuel in 2045 if they can’t find a way to install a secondary containment system around the massive tanks; 18 tanks remain active after nearly 80 years, built to meet U.S. military needs when World War II erupted. But a disturbing leak of 27,000 gallons of fuel in 2014 — determined to be due to human error — revealed just how vulnerable the water supply is should another accident occur.

The leak resulted in a legal agreement between the Navy, Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health, requiring the Navy to upgrade its tanks as quickly as possible and stipulating that tanks that haven’t been upgraded by 2037 will be taken out of service.

Concerned local officials have been pushing for double-lining of the tanks, but the Navy calls that cost-prohibitive. Instead, it last month proposed sticking with the single-walled steel tanks while adopting an improved program for tank cleaning, inspection and repair.

The Navy’s updated proposal to remove the fuel in 25 years if a secondary containment method can’t be found shouldn’t be approved. It’s a delay tactic, not a viable plan to protect the precious resource that provides drinking water for much of Oahu’s people.