Joint Task Force – Red Hill Aims To Begin Defueling as Early as October, Per New Plan

May 23, 2023 6:48 PM
A contractor at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF) conducts rewiring repairs in Halawa, Hawaii, May 9, 2023. US Navy Photo

This story has been updated to correct that it is the Department of Defense that submitted the second supplement to the Red Hill defueling plan and to add a statement from the Joint Task Force – Red Hill.

Joint Task Force – Red Hill will hold two open houses this week for the Hawaii service member community and residents as it works to gain back trust ahead of its planned defueling of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, now slated to begin in October.

The Department of Defense recently released a second supplement to its original plan to defuel Red Hill following a November 2021 leak in which fuel contaminated the drinking water. The supplement moves the expected defueling timeline up, with defueling beginning as early as October, if the plan is accepted by the Hawaii Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense, according to a joint task force press release.

Under the accelerated timeline, defueling of the tank mains, the flowable tank bottoms, surge tanks and pipelines will start in October and conclude in January 2024, according to the second supplement to the Department of Defense’s original June 30 plan laying out how it would defuel Red Hill. The plan was denied by the Hawaii Department of Health due to lack of specificity, resulting in the joint task force producing multiple supplements.

The timeline for defueling has continued to accelerate, and while supplements did not previously include a starting time, defueling was slated to end by July 2024. The new timeline pushes the end date up by six months.

The ability to accelerate the timeline comes from the DOD, along with the regulators, the Hawaii Department of Health and the EPA, finding efficiencies in the repair and defueling processes, Joint Task Force – Red Hill said in a statement.

““This supplement to the defueling plan presents a detailed roadmap and timeline for work we must accomplish, and identifies the conditions that need to be met to begin the safe and expeditious removal of fuel from the facility ahead of our original plan,” Vice Adm. John Wade, commander of Joint Task Force – Red Hill said in a statement.

The Hawaii Department of Health is currently reviewing the plan, according to a news release from the state agency.

“We are encouraged by the updated Red Hill defueling timeline,” Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho said in the release. “Moving up the timeline is a testament to the continued work by DOH and the community to push the Joint Task Force to move quickly and safely to defuel Red Hill. We will carefully review this submission to ensure that the updated timeline and plan can be executed safely without any further risk to the environment.”

Between 100,000 to 400,000 gallons of fuel could remain in the tanks after the defueling, according to the supplement. The DoD is expected to submit additional supplements for dealing with the leftover fuel.

The plan does not specifically address where the fuel will go once it is removed. According to the supplement, it will be moved to “approved defense fuel support points.”

The supplement includes a number of worst-case scenarios in terms of leaks during defueling with the steps the joint task force would take in the situation.

As an example, one of the most likely releases could happen in the tank gallery during defueling, which would happen from a pipe rupture, a failed repair or a valve failure. If a leak were to happen, the joint task force would use Aqueous Film Forming Foam retention pumps to recover up to 20,000 gallons of the leaked fuel within seven minutes, according to the supplement.

Joint Task Force – Red Hill is currently in the third phase of the defueling plan, during which it is making necessary repairs before defueling can commence. As of May 15, 220 out of 253 repairs have been completed, with 120 repairs submitted for third-party validation and to the Hawaii Department of Health, according to the task force’s dashboard. Repairs are slated to conclude May 31.

In addition to the two open houses on May 23 and 24, the Joint Task Force will hold a National Environmental Policy Act public meeting on June 15. The Department of Health will also hold an open house on June 5.

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.
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