by Sophie Cocke | November 20, 2019
About 350 people crowded into a cafeteria at Moanalua Middle School on Tuesday night where the public was given an opportunity to weigh in on the Navy’s proposed plan for upgrading its Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage facility near Pearl Harbor.
Public testimony was overwhelmingly opposed to the Navy’s plan, with dozens of residents expressing their discomfort with the risk that the aging fuel tanks pose to Oahu’s drinking water and urging the Navy to move the tanks.
The Navy’s proposal, required under a legal agreement forged between the Navy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health after a 2014 fuel spill, includes sticking with the Navy’s single-walled steel tank liners while permanently adopting an improved program for cleaning, inspecting and repairing its 18 active tanks.
The tanks, which store about 200 million gallons of fuel, sit 100 feet above an aquifer that supplies drinking water to much of Oahu.
Kevin O’Leary, a resident of Kalihi, told environmental regulators who are tasked with approving the Navy’s plan that they should listen to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, whose manager and chief engineer, Ernie Lau, has said the Navy should double-line the tanks or move them.
O’Leary said the military didn’t have a good environmental track record in Hawaii.
“The U.S. military, on the other hand, does not have a stellar record when it comes to a wise environment — from Kahoolawe to Pohakuloa to Waikane Valley to Makua to offshore Waianae — they have left our aina polluted with emissions and toxic waste they never bothered to clean up,” said O’Leary. “They cannot be trusted in the matter of the fuel tanks. The tanks must go — not in 2045, but now in 2019.”
He then turned to the rest of the room and asked those who agreed with him to stand up, prompting the great majority in the cafeteria to rise and applaud loudly.
Patricia Beekman, a member of the Aiea Neighborhood Board, was among the few who showed up to support the Navy’s plans. She told regulators that she believed their proposal was reasonable, citing national security concerns.
“This is a true dilemma because there are consequences if the Navy cannot find a reasonable solution for the fuel here,” she said. “Hawaii is the major deposit for fuel for the defense of the Pacific region.”
The public meeting went about 30 minutes beyond its scheduled two hours before government officials accepting the public comments said they had to stop to close the school, prompting anger from residents who showed up to testify but didn’t get a chance.
The EPA and DOH are accepting written comments on the Navy’s plan through Dec. 9.