Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered the permanent closure of the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii, the final chapter in an embarrassing saga for the Pentagon after leaks from the massive facility contaminated Pearl Harbor’s tap water.
The fuel tanks, dating to World War II and built into the side of a mountain to protect them from Japanese attacks, had leaked into a local drinking water well, sickening nearly 6,000 people in military housing near or at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Nearly 4,000 families were forced to relocate in an episode that became a major public relations black eye for the Pentagon.
Mr. Austin‘s decision came after Pentagon inspectors made a new assessment of Red Hill’s viability. Hawaii state health officials also had recommended draining the fuel tanks.
“After close consultation with senior civilian and military leaders, I have decided to defuel and permanently close [Red Hill] in Hawaii,” Mr. Austin said in a statement Monday. “This is the right thing to do.”
He said it would take about a year to develop a plan for decommissioning the site before the tanks can be drained. He said the Pentagon now has a much more dispersed array of forces in the Pacific and the need for a centralized refueling center has declined.
“We will develop an environmental mitigation plan to address any future contamination concerns,” Mr. Austin added. “When we begin to consider land-use options for the property after the fueling facility is closed, we will stay in lockstep with communities in Hawaii. Nothing will be decided without careful and thorough consultation with our partners.”
He also pledged to work with families whose lives and health had been affected by the leaks.
“We owe you the very best health care we can provide, answers to your many questions, and clean, safe drinking water,” Mr. Austin said. “Quite frankly, we owe you a return to normal.”