Red Hill fuel storage deadline in doubt

Honolulu Star Advertiser - February 19, 2020
Dan Nakaso

Hopes to shut down the Navy’s underground fuel tanks at Red Hill in 2028 were in doubt Tuesday after the chairwoman of a critical Senate committee removed the revised version of Senate Bill 2774 from scheduled decision making on Thursday.

State Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui) did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about why she deleted the bill from upcoming decision making.

But state Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo), chairman of the Senate Agriculture & Environment Committee, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a statement, “I was very disappointed to see SB 2774 taken off the CPH agenda. Waiting until 2045 is much too late for the Navy to take real action to ensure that the aging Red Hill Fuel Tanks are double-walled or even moved to another location. This bill is needed to put pressure on the Navy to make it a higher priority to protect our island’s precious water supply.”

Gabbard was one of three senators who introduced the bill.

The Red Hill tanks have been a source of concern since 2014 after a 27,000- gallon leak just 100 feet above a major source of drinking water for much of Oahu. In October, Navy officials said they would remove the fuel sometime around 2045 if they cannot find a way to install a secondary containment system.

SB 2774, which passed out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment with amendments, would prohibit anyone from operating an underground storage system with a capacity of 100,000 gallons or more, “mauka of the underground injection control line.”

Helen Nakano, a Manoa resident and grandmother to 1- and 2-year-old grandchildren, was at the state Capitol on Tuesday trying to whip up support for SB 2774 when she was told that it was in limbo.

Nakano, who helped found the organization Malama Manoa and was on a Honolulu Board of Water Supply advisory group, said the issues at Red Hill affect everyone on Oahu.
“On an island we’re connected,” Nakano said. “There’s no degree of separation. We’ve got to do something. Then all of a sudden, it’s off the agenda.”

Jodi Malinoski, policy advocate for the Sierra Club Hawaii chapter, has testified on SB 2774 and said it’s possible the bill was pulled to tweak some language or to do additional research.

“It doesn’t mean the bill is dead,” Malinoski said. “But it’s definitely not a good sign for the bill to be deleted from the agenda.

"The Navy wants to extend the deadline to upgrade tanks to 2045 using some unknown technology,” Malinoski said. “Twenty-five years is too long.”