Navy Asking Local Residents What to Do with Red Hill Depot at the Center of Fuel Spill

Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility site tour.
A Navy Region Hawaii employee points to a valve as he explains the pipe configurations of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility to EPA and Hawaii Department of Health officials at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility Jan. 20, 2023. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Orlando Corpuz)

The Navy is seeking recommendations from the residents of Oahu on repurposing the Red Hill fuel depot once it's drained and the site is closed.

The service released the first of two surveys last week for the public to provide input on the site's future, according to a Navy announcement Friday. The survey not only addresses non-fuel uses, it asks how the community is learning about ongoing efforts to close Red Hill and what information they would like to receive from the Navy.

The service is pledging that responses will be confidential and anonymous. The input will be used as part of an effort to develop "beneficial non-fuel reuse of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility" and will be included in a report to Congress expected in February 2024, according to a press release.

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Red Hill is an underground storage facility with 20 buried tanks that once contained fuel for the Pacific Fleet and related installations. It is capable of holding up to 250 million gallons of fuel. Sandwiched between a correctional facility, a gun range and neighborhoods, the facility is scheduled to be defueled and completely shuttered by August 2027.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the Navy to shut down the facility on March 7, 2022, after two accidents in May 2021 and November 2021 led to the contamination of drinking water and groundwater with jet fuel.

The Navy has proposed draining the tanks but leaving them in place, citing the environmental harm that would result from removing the tanks from their volcanic resting bed. The site sits about 100 feet above the water table, which provides drinking water to much of Honolulu.

Roughly 93,000 residents of military housing on and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam were exposed to jet fuel and other contaminants in their drinking water in 2021 following a massive spill of 20,000 gallons at the fuel depot the later that year dumped more than 5,000 gallons of fuel and contaminants into the drinking water supply and groundwater.

The incident forced roughly 4,000 families from their homes while others opted to remain, living on bottled water for cooking, cleaning and bathing. Eventually, the World War II-era bulk fuel farm was closed and is being drained.

Nearly 6,000 residents, mainly military families, sought medical care for symptoms that ranged from rashes, nosebleeds and vomiting to sore throats and headaches, with some still dealing with chronic conditions they say are related to the spill.

More than 110 plaintiffs have joined a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy over the contamination, seeking compensation for the physical, emotional and financial strain they say was placed on them as a result of the service's failure to investigate and adequately respond.

Three military officers filed their own claims over the contamination against the Navy last week, the initial step in filing a federal lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Navy Ensign Koda Freeman, Army Col. Jessica Whaley and Army Maj. Amanda Feindt filed their claim March 27. Military service members are generally barred from suing the federal government by the Feres doctrine, a precedent-setting decision by the Supreme Court that bars troops from suing the government for injury, illness or death considered incidental to military service.

Their attorney, Kristina Baehr, has argued that the Red Hill disaster should not fall under Feres.

"We assert that [Feres] cannot be used against off-duty service members that showered in and drank water poisoned by the Navy in their own homes," Baehr said in a press release.

Oahu residents interested in answering the survey can find it here.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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