By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 01, 2022) -- In November, fuel from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Honolulu contaminated water supplies there. Today the Defense Department is still working to address the issue, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said.
"[The] No. 1 priority is to make sure we're looking after the military personnel and their families as well as the residents, [and] civilian residents affected by this contamination," Kirby told reporters during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
The Navy, he said, continues to work to remedy the issue, and right now, Kirby said, around 4,000 military families are displaced as a result of the water contamination.
"We're trying to get them ... back into their quarters as quickly as possible," he said.
A second priority is ensuring the contributions to national security provided by the Red Hill facility will continue -- regardless of what happens to Red Hill itself, he said. Red Hill is responsible for fueling most operations in the Indo-Pacific region.
And finally, he said, is the Defense Department's commitment to the environment.
"We ... want to make sure that we are absolutely being good stewards of the environment," he said. "And we do that all around the world. We know we particularly need to do that here in Hawaii. It's an environment that that we enjoy, that we appreciate ourselves. We're living in it and we know we have significant responsibilities there."
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks met yesterday with Hawaii Gov. David Ige to discuss the situation at Red Hill.
"We discussed how we can work together through some pending legal matters," Hicks said in a statement released following her visit.
Hicks said the department continues to act as part of an emergency order by the Hawaii Department of Health, which includes, among other things, suspending operations of fuel transfers at Red Hill, implementing a series of testing and sampling protocols, and installing new equipment to treat the water resources in Oahu.
"As required by the emergency order ... we will submit to the Hawaii Department of Health a work plan and implementation schedule for a qualified, independent third party commercial firm to assess the facility operations and system integrity necessary to safely operate and/or defuel Red Hill," Hicks said, adding that the plan must be submitted by Feb. 2, 2022.
Regarding the future of the Red Hill facility, Hicks said the Department is right now analyzing the distribution of fuel reserves in the Pacific theater.
"This analysis by the Department of Defense will be completed within sixty days to enable the Secretary of Defense to make a decision on the role of Red Hill moving forward," she said.
Another order by the Hawaii Department of Health was to drain the fuel in Red Hill. The Department can file an appeal to that order and plans to do so.
"This will afford us time to make evidence-based and transparent decisions," Hicks said.
Right now, Kirby said, fuel operations at Red Hill have been suspended. Going forward, the Department has responsibilities to those affected by the contamination, the environment and national security.
"We know we've got responsibilities here to get this right -- to get this right for families affected -- not just military families -- but residents of the state of Hawaii," he said. "We don't have all the answers figured out right now and where we're going to go with Red Hill long-term, but one thing is for sure: that we are going to have security commitments in the Indo-Pacific long-term ... we've got to make sure that whatever plan we have in place, whatever we do here, that we can continue to defend the nation from the Indo-Pacific Theater."