Hawaii Department of Health Confirms Order to Shut Down Red Hill Fuel Tanks

The Hawaii Department of Health is upholding its order to the Navy to drain the fuel facility at Red Hill, where oil leaks have contaminated the drinking water of nearly 100,000 people.

DOH deputy director Marian Tsuji released the decision on Monday. He confirms the findings of a hearing officer who listened to 13 hours of testimony in the case and determined last week that the order was legal and necessary.

Military officials and environmental regulators recently signed a water sampling plan. US Navy

“The Red Hill facility has already damaged human health and the environment and, in its current situation, inevitably threatens to do so in the future,” said Hearing Officer David Day. “The Navy does not have the capacity to control the substantial risks associated with the Red Hill facility as it is currently located.”

On Tuesday, Tsuji wrote in a three-page ruling that Day’s report “accurately and fully sets out the relevant facts and accurately sets out the applicable law.”

Under the order, the Navy has 30 days to submit a plan to “safely dump fuel” from its WWII fuel facility.

In a video statement, Deputy Director Kathleen Ho hailed Tsuji’s decision as a step towards protecting drinking water and the environment from “irreparable damage.”

“We call on the Navy to comply with the order without further attempt to delay,” she said.

The Navy has already agreed to comply with parts of the order, including suspending operations at Red Hill and taking steps to establish a water treatment plant. But the military, which views Red Hill as a vital national security asset, has strongly protested against the demand to drain the fuel entirely.

Marian Tsuji was appointed Deputy Director of Behavioral Health at the Ministry of Health on June 28, 2021
Marian Tsuji confirmed the decision of a hearing officer from the Ministry of Health. Hawaii Dept. of Health / 2021

In more than 40 pages of legal arguments filed last week, a Navy lawyer claimed the state lacks the power to demand the facility shut down, among other objections. The state can only use these emergency powers if people are in “imminent danger”, both sides agree, but the navy believes the danger does not exist.

The Navy can now appeal Tsuji’s decision to court, but it’s unclear whether they will.

In a statement, Cmdr. Reann Mommsen of the Navy Office of Information in Washington DC said only, “The Navy is reviewing the decision. “

Even if the Navy complies with the order and drains its facility of about 180 million gallons of fuel, the order still leaves open the possibility that the Navy could resume using its tanks later. This would only happen, however, if the DOH determines that the Navy is capable of doing so in a way that “protects human health and the environment,” according to the order.

Meanwhile, the Navy is engaged in another legal case before the DOH in an attempt to obtain a license to operate the Red Hill facility. This case, which is being disputed by the Sierra Club of Hawaii and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, is ongoing.

On Monday afternoon, environmental activists praised Tsuji’s decision.

“It’s huge,” Wayne Tanaka, executive director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said in a statement. “We commend the Department of Health for taking this critical stance and urge them to continue to stand the Navy’s feet against the fire, until it empties its decrepit facility and defends us from it- same.”