US Navy wants public’s ideas on how to use Hawaii fuel tanks

FILE - In this file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Rear Adm. John Korka leads Navy and civilian water quality recovery experts through the tunnels of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, near Pearl Harbor, Oahu, on Dec. 23, 2021. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy via AP, File)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Oahu (AP) — The Navy on Tuesday said it will ask the public how it should use a fuel storage facility in the hills above Pearl Harbor once it has finished draining petroleum from its massive storage tanks.

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility leaked petroleum into Pearl Harbor’s tap water last year and sickened nearly 6,000 people, mostly those living in military housing.


The Navy said it would seek permission from the state Department of Health to leave the tanks inside the hillside where they were built during World War II.

Meredith Berger, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment, told reporters at a news conference that it would be safer for the environment to leave the tanks in place once they are cleaned.

The Navy also said leaving them there would allow them to be put to another use. The Navy hasn’t determined what they will be used for yet, only that they won’t be used to store fuel again.

The Navy plans to ask the public for ideas through meetings and webinars. One possibility is to use the tanks to store water for a pumped hydoelectric power facility.

“We’re very interested to hear what we can find and we’ll go through a process to make sure that we’re soliciting those good ideas,” Berger said.

The Navy is closing the facility in response to an order from the Department of Health after jet fuel spilled from the facility into a drinking water well in November. It expects to finish draining fuel from the tanks in July 2024.

Berger said it will take another three years after they are drained to close the facility.

Hawaii officials are worried that last year’s leak, in addition to poisoning people, also contaminated an aquifer that Honolulu’s water utility relies on to supply drinking water to 400,000 people on Oahu.

That comes on top of contamination from other recorded leaks over the decades.

The aquifer in question is located just 100 feet (30 meters) below the facility.

Capt. Cameron Geertsema, the commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Pacific, said the Navy has removed some contaminated soil already by using an excavator to dig it up and dispose of it as a hazardous substance.

He said the Navy is working with private engineering firms to explore other decontamination methods including potentially soil vapor extraction. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that involves drilling extraction wells into contaminated soil at least 3 feet (1 meter) below the surface but above the water table.

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