Joint Task Force – Red Hill Begins Dewatering as Hawaii Senator Raises Concerns About Past Navy Oversight

April 18, 2023 6:02 PM
Fuels director, LCDR Shannon Bencs walks a portion of the 7 miles of tunnels of the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility on July 17, 2020. US Navy Photo

Joint Task Force – Red Hill started the dewatering process at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Department of Defense group announced Monday.

Dewatering is the process of removing water that collects in the fuel tanks due to the condensation from water vapor entering the tanks through vents. The joint task force needs to remove the water before it can move on to the next steps in defueling the bulk fuel storage facility, USNI News previously reported.

“We are dewatering the tanks this week, which is a major milestone on our path to the safe and expeditious defueling of the Red Hill facility. We have deliberately validated our procedures, trained to them, and rehearsed, so that we conduct the evolution safely,” Joint Task Force – Red Hill Commander Vice Adm. John Wade said in a news release.

Dewatering is expected to last through April 21.

As of April 12, the most recent update available, the joint task force completed 172 out of 253 repairs needed before it can progress to defueling, according to a Joint Task Force – Red Hill dashboard.

The DoD group aims to entirely defuel Red Hill by June 2024.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) raised concerns about the lack of transparency from the Navy over spills and leaks at Red Hill during a Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, adding that the Hawaiian community is skeptical about the military’s ability to ability to fix the issues at Red Hill. The Navy did not immediately inform residents about the November 2021 Red Hill leak and the Honolulu Civil Beat has found other instances of the Navy not disclosing spills.

“I note, Mr. Secretary, that recently the DoD opened up its Red Hill clinic to people who were not in the service and that is very much appreciated by a community that has been rocked by the disaster at Red Hill and continues to raise many questions about what the military is doing and how they’re doing it,” Hirono said during the committee hearing.

Hirono highlighted recommendations following the Red Hill fuel leak, which focused on “a culture of procedural non-compliance, lack of ownership and poor training,”

She asked Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro to point to one change that he implemented following the leak. Del Toro told her that in addition to ongoing repairs, there is more supervision over who works at Red Hill, including contractors and subcontractors.

That Navy also added this oversight to other facilities, Del Toro said. Hirono said she found that reassuring, but raised concerns about the lack of previous oversight.

“It’s stunning to note that the lack of ownership, poor training, lack of oversight that characterize what happened in Red Hill may be going on in other facilities and that needs to be changed,” she said. “That kind of culture of lack of oversight is really very stunning and totally unacceptable.”

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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