Star Advertiser: Editorial: Navy’s fuel tank plan inadequate

(Via: Star Advertiser)

September 12, 2018

Hurriedly built during the World War II era, the Navy’s underground fuel storage facility at Red Hill includes 20 fuel tanks situated just 100 feet above an aquifer that supplies drinking water to some 400,000 residents, from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai.

Worry about the aging facility’s potential to taint water quality rightly spiked in the aftermath of a 27,000-gallon leak in January 2014. Subsequently, the Navy entered into an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Health Department that tasked it with sizing up upgrades needed to improve safety.

Now, after much foot-dragging, the Navy is saying, in part, that it isn’t sure of its future fuel needs in the Indo-Pacific region — and wants to patch the threat it created on this island with the cheapest and least protective option. Federal and state regulators should flatly reject this proposal, which a Navy’s own report has described as “minimal changes to the status quo.”

Changes much closer to maximal, including a shredding of the status quo, are needed.

Honolulu’s Board of Water Supply warns if the Red Hill tanks — each large enough to swallow Aloha Tower — leak jet fuel that pollutes the nearby drinking water source, studies indicate that the result could be ruinous — cleanup could take decades or be cost prohibitive.

For the sake of responsibly protecting groundwater quality and quantity, regulators should insist that the Navy install a more expensive — and clearly more effective — option of double-wall protection, which the BWS recommends.

The Navy’s low-level recommendation calls for coating tank lower domes to prevent corrosion — already a current practice for Red Hill tank repairs — as well as coating tank nozzles at a price tag of $10 million to $25 million per tank. The option would also fund leak detection system improvements. The double wall, or tank-within-a-tank pick, could cost between $100 million to $250 million per tank, according to Navy estimates.

The Navy has said it’s “seeking the best practicable options” as a steward of our tax dollars. That’s an eyebrow-raising take, given that just last month President Donald Trump signed off on a $716 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2019, which dramatically ramps up Pentagon spending.

The president has touted the move as an effort to “strengthen our military like never ever before,” with a lineup of the “finest planes and ships and tanks and missiles anywhere on earth.” The hardware shopping list includes $7.6 billion for 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, for example. Such spending, though, should also take care to thoroughly address long-standing military-caused environmental threats.

In Red Hill’s case, BWS chief Ernest Lau points out that settling for the Navy’s proposed fix means “you are still living with … 1940s vintage, quarter-inch steel plate that is keeping the fuel from leaking out, and we know the steel is corroding on the back side.” Honolulu deserves much better than an apparent Band-Aid.

The state Health Department recently extended the Navy’s deadline for making a formal recommendation to the end of the year so that additional studies can be completed. Also, last month officials told regulators that a Navy review of fuel requirements in the Indo-Pacific region is now in the works. Even so, no more foot-dragging should be tolerated.

There’s virtually no doubt that the Oahu-based U.S. Pacific Command will continue to figure prominently in the Navy’s future. In late May, it was renamed U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, reflecting surfacing priorities, including competition with China and the growing importance of the Indian Ocean and India itself to U.S. strategy in the region.

In addition to investing in next-generation military hardware, Navy leaders are also examining the inventory of ships and infrastructure to support them in the Pacific. In its assessment of the Red Hill fuel facility, to safeguard water quality and public safety, the Navy must put in place robust secondary containment — or calls for closure will mount.

Source: Star Advertiser

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