Former health department official recalls frustrations of working with Navy at Red Hill

A former Hawaii Department of Health official says the recent fuel-tainted water crisis is the worst-case scenario everyone feared after the 2014 major fuel leak at the fuel storage facility. Bulk from Navy’s Red Hill – exactly eight years ago on Thursday.

Gary Gill served as the DOH’s deputy director of environmental health from 2011 to 2015. He says the most frustrating part of working with the Navy is coordinating with multiple departments and chains of command within the military branch.

“I realized there really wasn’t any navy we could deal with. You have Pacific Command, and you have Pearl Harbor Command, and you have Defense Logistics Agency, and you have NAVFAC, which is their engineering command,” he said. “It’s such a big beast, the Navy here in Hawaiʻi.”

That doesn’t even include the chain of command from the Pentagon to the White House, Gill said.

He also called the Navy’s three-point program for public relations “deny, delay and distract.”

“Like, ‘It’s not a problem, oh, it’s going to take us forever to fix it and it’s going to cost too much, and, you know, go think about something else.’ It’s really frustrating – sitting down, trying to get this organization to step in and trying to help them,” Gill said.

“The whole mission of the Navy is national defense and the projection of American foreign policy across the Pacific to Asia. The reason you and I are speaking English right now is because the Navy really coveted Pearl Harbor there. is 150 years old as a coal station.” Gill told The Conversation.

“They were just going to pile coal there during the days of the Hawaiian kingdom so they could fill their steamboats with coal. And it turned into this huge military base, and it has so much momentum behind it – to protect what it has. This Red Hill facility, no admiral wants to be the guy who lost this facility to the Navy and Pearl Harbor,” he said.

Thursday marked the eighth anniversary of a fuel spill of nearly 30,000 gallons from underground tanks at the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in the surrounding area.

This segment aired as a call-in special on The Conversation on January 13, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.