The military joint task force charged with defueling the massive underground fuel tanks at the Navy's Red Hill facility announced Wednesday that it had successfully completed all repairs and modifications to the aging World War II-era facility the state Department of Health said the military must perform to safely begin draining the tanks.
The tanks currently hold 104 million gallons of fuel and sit just 100 feet above a critical aquifer most of Honolulu relies on for drinking water. After years of military officials waving off concerns from local officials and community leaders about the safety of the facility, in November 2021 jet fuel from the facility entered and contaminated the Navy's Oahu water system, which serves 93, 000 people.
Last year the Pentagon appointed Vice Adm. John Wade to lead the newly assembled Joint Task Force-Red Hill in defueling the tanks. When Wade took command, he said his timeline to finish defueling would be about mid-2024, but that he would actively look for ways to move faster.
This summer, the task force said that it found ways to expedite the process and plans to have most work done by the end of January with defueling operations set to begin in October. However, long-term remediation and closure of the facility—which will be overseen by different agencies—will take much longer.
"Today marks a tremendous milestone for our team. Completing the repairs paved the way for us to safely proceed with defueling operations—an immense undertaking ensuring the facility's safety and mitigating potential risks, " Wade said in a statement. "A coordinated effort involving a team of highly skilled professionals, industry experts, and regulatory bodies collaborated to achieve this milestone."
For years, Navy officials publicly defended the Red Hill facility, arguing it was a vital fuel reserve that the military needed to support operations in the Pacific. But for years concerns had been raised internally by Navy personnel about the condition of tanks, pipelines and other systems. Documents released after the 2021 spill showed military officials were well aware that the aging facility had fallen into deep disrepair.
State and military officials agreed that significant repairs, upgrades and modifications would be necessary to safely extract the 104 million gallons currently stored in the tanks. The DOH mandated 253 items for the military to complete before it could be satisfied that defueling could begin.
All completed repairs and modifications are required to undergo a review starting with a quality control process conducted by contractors, followed by quality assurance checks to ensure that standards were met. The final step in the quality control process is an independent third-party quality validation and submission to DOH for approval.
According to Joint Task Force-Red Hill, as of Wednesday, 212 of the 253 completed repairs have gone through the quality validation process. Of those, the DOH has conditionally approved 76.
The DOH declined to comment and Honolulu Board of Water Supply officials did not respond to requests for comment.
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