Updated: December 3, 2023
The US Department of Defense plans to file an appeal of the stateʻs emergency order on Red Hill in both state and federal court by the February 2 deadline.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks issued a statement saying the action will afford the DoD time to make “evidence-based and transparent decisions.”
“Despite these legal process requirements, we hope to collaborate with the State of Hawaiʻi in a way that would allow the parties the time and space needed to reach solutions together,” said Dr. Hicks.
She explained that the DoD is taking action to address the November release and contamination, including the restoration of safe drinking water. The DoD has also launched a review of the facility’s long-term future, “to include the option of permanently defueling Red Hill.”
“We will continue to do everything that we can to protect the population, the environment, and the security of the nation. We are confident these goals are mutually supportive and can coexist,” said Dr. Hicks.
The DoD plans to submit to the Hawaiʻi Department of Health a work plan and implementation schedule for a qualified, independent third party commercial firm to assess the facility operations and system integrity necessary to safely operate and/or defuel Red Hill.
“As to the long-term future of Red Hill, we are on an aggressive schedule to analyze and determine the distribution of fuel reserves for our operations in the Pacific theater. Separate from the independent third party assessment, this analysis by the Department of Defense will be completed within 60 days to enable the Secretary of Defense to make a decision on the role of Red Hill moving forward,” said Dr. Hicks in a statement.
Hawaiʻi DOH, lawmakers, environmental groups frustrated, disappointed at DoD’s plan to appeal
Hawaiʻi’s Deputy Director of Environmental Health, Kathleen Ho, said sheʻs “very disappointed that the Navy continues to fight the emergency order.
“The Navy committed to Congress and in multiple public forums that it would comply with the emergency order. Today’s announcement that they intend to appeal the emergency order is yet another breach of trust between the Navy and the people of Hawai‘i,” said Ho. “We will continue our fight in court to force the Navy to render the Red Hill facility safe. DOH will continue to act to protect Hawai‘i residents and our environment.”
DOH’s emergency order will remain in effect throughout the appeal process.
Congressman Ed Case (HI-01) said he strongly disagrees with Dr. Hicks and the Defense Departmentʻs decision to further contest the Stateʻs emergency order on Red Hill.
“I will do everything I can to fully effectuate the order and, if necessary, to confirm that Hawai’i and any other state is legally entitled to protect its drinking water,” said Rep. Case.
US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) said the DoD “made a grave and unforced error that undermines public trust.”
“Fortunately, we have civilian oversight of the military, and this inexplicable and maddening resistance to the defuel order will not succeed. They will lose in court, and they will lose in Congress.”
Earthjustice and the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i expressed “deep frustration” at the US Navy’s decision to appeal the state’s emergency order to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.
“All their words about building trust and prioritizing our safety just went out the window,” said Wayne Tanaka, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i Chapter Director. “This decision is clearly a move to ignore our demands that they fix this mess, and keep us in jeopardy for as long as possible. The people of Hawai‘i are not stupid, and we are not expendable.”
“If the Navy’s contamination of its own water system last November taught us anything, it’s that we cannot leave it up to the military to decide what is needed to protect O‘ahu’s irreplaceable drinking water supply,” said David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i in the contested case hearing over the emergency order.
“Thousands of families have already been displaced from their homes for months, unable to drink the water coming out of their taps, and we are all looking at water rationing this summer. We will vigorously defend the emergency order against the Navy’s foot-dragging. The Red Hill tanks need to be drained now to prevent an even greater catastrophe that poisons our entire water supply.”
Navy Begins Red Hill Shaft Recovery Operations
The US Navy began a full-scale operation of pumping and granular activated carbon filtration of groundwater from the Navy’s Red Hill Shaft on Monday.
“This is a vital step forward in the process for containing and removing contamination within the shaft as part of the Red Hill Shaft Recovery and Monitoring Plan,” according to a Navy press release.
The Interagency Drinking Water System Team (IDWST) finalized the plan last week, which includes actions to pump and filter contaminated groundwater from the Navy’s Red Hill Shaft to reduce spread of contamination and protect plants and wildlife.
The Navy says the effort will help the team better understand movement and contamination of groundwater.
“Each day, the Navy is pumping up to 5 million gallons of groundwater from the Red Hill Shaft. This creates a capture zone within the aquifer to reduce the spread of groundwater contamination. To remove contaminants inside the well, the Navy will use skimming pumps and an array of booms and absorbent pads. The Navy’s goal is to contain contamination near the Red Hill Shaft and prevent further contamination of the aquifer,” according to the press release.
After the water is pumped from the well, it passes through the GAC filtration system before being discharged into Hālawa Stream. As the water passes through the filtration system, it is monitored for contaminants. If contaminant levels exceed DOH’s acceptable limits, operations will be stopped.
A copy of the plan is available for public viewing here.