Whistleblower says Navy gave false testimony about Red Hill fuel leaks
A whistleblower told the Hawaii Department of Health in September that Navy officials provided false testimony and withheld information about corrosion at its Red Hill fuel facility, according to a note filed by the DOH Environmental Health Administration Tuesday.
In light of this information, the division has asked Director of Health Libby Char to reopen legal proceedings that will help determine the fate of the besieged facility.
An official in the hearing of a contested case had previously recommended that Char issue a license to operate, under certain conditions, but the EHA memo raised the possibility that he could change his recommendation.
“The integrity of the process has been called into question and it is important to ensure that the hearing officer has the most complete and accurate information available to make a recommendation, and that the director has the most appropriate information. more complete and precise available in order for it to render a decision on the permit, ”the memo said.
“It is also important that these allegations are addressed so that the public can have confidence in the DOH’s authorization and challenge processes,” he added.
The Red Hill facility, built in the early 1940s during World War II, consists of 20 gigantic underground fuel tanks, each larger than the Aloha Tower, and a network of pipelines that deliver fuel to Pearl Harbor, among others.
Numerous fuel leaks in the decades since its installation have raised serious concerns among residents and conservationists who fear that the drinking water aquifer beneath the tanks could be poisoned by the fuel.
The hearing in the disputed case was opened after the Sierra Club of Hawaii and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply opposed the Navy’s 2019 operating license application. The hearings were held in early February. and were reopened in July following a fuel release from a burst pipe in one of the facility’s underground tunnels.
The hearing officer delivered his proposal for decision and order September 10.
On September 16, a naval officer informed the DOH’s Office of Risk Assessment and Emergency Response that “inaccurate testimony had been submitted and important information had been wrongly withheld by the Navy as part of the of the proceedings at issue “.
The memo did not name the naval officer but indicated that the person was familiar with the Red Hill facility, including “corrosion and leak detection issues, historical data, and the full extent of the Red Hill facility. Hill, including tanks and pipelines subject to authorization. and state regulation.
Navy Public Affairs Officer Mike Andrews said Tuesday the Navy “does not comment on matters in dispute.”
The Navy whistleblower was questioned by the Hawaii attorney general’s office in October, according to the memo.
The person reported that the full extent of the underground storage system infrastructure, including pipelines, was not disclosed to the state on the Navy’s permit application, and that information regarding the corrosion history were poorly concealed, according to the memo.
“This resulted in the lack of material information for the proceedings and inaccurate testimony provided by a Navy witness during the disputed case,” the memo reads.
Among the Red Hill pipelines that were not disclosed on the Navy’s permit application was a drain line, according to the memo. The memo says the DOH first learned of the line’s existence when the Navy shared a diagram with the department on May 25. That same month, the DOH sent a letter to the Navy regarding a drain line leak from the Red Hill facility in Pearl Harbor. The memo does not say whether the fuel drain line it refers to is the same one that leaked into the port and has since triggered calls for investigation.
The EHA argued in its memo that the DOH needs “accurate and complete” information about the full extent of the Red Hill system, which the state has the authority to regulate.
Regarding corrosion, the EHA said the naval officer reported “historical records of corrosion problems, including holes in the tanks, which are hidden from regulators.”
“Corrosion is a key issue in this process and it is necessary for the hearing officer and manager to have the most accurate information about the corrosion history at the Red Hill facility in order to be able to make a recommendation. and an informed decision on the permit to be made, ”the memo reads.
Char has the power to refer the case back to the hearing officer for further deliberation, and she should, the EHA memo said.
The EHA last month asked the hearings officer to delay the deadline for the disputed cases so that it could investigate the allegations. The new deadline for parties to the contested case to file final documents was then set for November 19.
The EHA memo comes amid mounting criticism of the Navy this year by lawmakers, conservationists and residents, many of whom are calling on the Navy to quickly double its tanks or move them to a larger location. safe on the surface.