Wai Ola Alliance Press Release

Notice of Intent Filed to Sue Navy Over Chronic Leakage From Hawai’i Fuel Tanks

HONOLULU, HI. November 2nd, 2021 - Today the Wai Ola Alliance (“WOA”) delivered a notice of intent to file suit against the United States Navy (“Navy”) in Federal District Court for the imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”) at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility near Pearl Harbor.


The 144-acre Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility consists of twenty vintage underground storage tanks (“USTs”) with a combined total capacity of 250 million gallons of petroleum-based fuel, making it the largest in the United States. It is located on the western edge of the Ko’olau mountain range, approximately 100 feet above the boundary of the Waimalu and Moanalua Aquifers. This collectively covers the Southern Oahu Basal Aquifer, which the Navy has acknowledged as irreplaceable and vulnerable to contamination.


“I think we need to go back and ask who is the rightful owner to the land?” Said Mary Maxine Kahaulelio, community activist and plaintiff in the case. “It is the kingdom of Hawaii, who’s land and water the United States military continues to discreetly destroy and desecrate.”


Since its construction during World War II in 1943, the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility has experienced more than 70 fuel leaks. The discharged Petroleum-based fuels and fuel oils have contaminated the underlying soil and groundwater with hazardous middle distillates such as lead, TPH, and benzene, all of which are harmful to human health. The Southern Oahu Basal Aquifer is designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Sole Source Aquifer (“SSA”), as it supplies at least 50% of the drinking water for residents within its service area, and has no available alternatives. The Aquifer currently provides 70% of the island's water supply, all of which would be contaminated and unsafe to use even if just one of the Red Hill tanks were to fail.
 

“The Navy has reported that a release of up to 700,000 gallons would not cause any impact... This is not the point. The point is that we should not be drinking any contaminated water at all,” states Melodie Aduja, Co-chair of the Environmental Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawai`i. “This lawsuit is long overdue. It’s time to make the Navy accountable and to stop them from further damaging our natural resources beyond recovery.”


The citizen suit will specifically allege that the Navy has violated and remains in violation of RCRA by causing or contributing to the past and present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, and/or disposal of solid waste in a manner that poses an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.

“The Navy facility has experienced leaks in the past and continues to do so, despite protest and concerns of Hawai’i’s people. We love, depend on, and Malama ‘Aina (take special and sacred care of the land),” said Clarence “Ku” Ching, community activist, and Plaintiff in the suit. “The Navy is going directly against this, they can destroy the land, and its resources, then move on, but we have nowhere else to go. This is our home.”


This notice comes after the Navy’s continuing violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which chiefly consists of 70 documented spills, the most recent occurring in May of 2021. Through this lawsuit, the WOA will seek to immediately address the continuous imminent threat of a catastrophic failure through the installation of tank liners, replacement of pipes, and integration of a leak detection system while longer-term solutions are negotiated between the Navy, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the Hawai’i Department of Health.


"When state and county elected officials fail to protect their citizens from a clear, imminent and catastrophic disaster of this magnitude, then we the people must step up and fight to protect our families,” said Kim Coco Iwamoto, another Honolulu resident and plaintiff in the case.


After Tank 5 of the Red Hill Facility leaked nearly thirty thousand gallons of fuel in 2014, the Navy entered an Administrative Order on Consent with the Hawaii Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency. This order aimed to create a structured approach on collecting data, evaluating technical solutions to prevent future fuel releases, and negotiating their implementation. One of these studies conducted by the Navy in 2018 concluded that there is still greater than a 27% probability of a sudden release of up to 30,000 gallons of fuel from the Facility each year, coupled with recurrent chronic pipe infrastructure leaks. At present, any proposed integrity upgrades for the WWII-era facility will begin in 2037. The WOA believes that such a timeline is inappropriate, ineffective, and dangerous.


"My beloved father was a decorated Marine flight engineer who served 27 years, including in WWII, Korea & Vietnam. He instilled in me values like integrity and public service that inspired my own military service. It's really disappointing that the Navy isn't prioritizing the very resource that enables life on this island” said Pete Doktor, a Honolulu resident and Plaintiff in the case.“If and when the tank system fails, our true wealth -- our water, will be irreparably damaged with long-term consequences; this isn't anti-military as it is a 'pro-life' so to speak as nothing is more critical to our security than protecting our water and `ohana."


In the coming 90 days, the WOA will seek discussions with the Navy to solve this matter without litigation. The group aims to negotiate the application of sufficient engineering solutions to mitigate the imminent endangerment posed by the tanks, with an enforceable timeline via settlement or Court Order. They believe that a cooperative approach to negotiating will be most beneficial for all parties, and crucial in this time-sensitive, high-risk situation. However, upon expiration of the 90-day period, the WOA intends to file a citizen suit, which will seek legal and equitable relief related to past, present, and future remediation costs, including attorneys’ and subject matter experts fees/costs.


Contacts:

Daniel Cooper, Sycamore Law, Inc., (415) 360-2962, daniel@sycamore.law
Jesse Swanhuyser, Sycamore Law Inc., (805) 689-1469, jesse@sycamore.law
Margaret Wille, Margaret Wille & Associates LLLC, (808) 854-6931, mw@mwlawhawaii.com
Tim Vandeveer, Margaret Wille & Associates LLLC, (808) 388-0660, tim@mwlawhawaii.com

 

The Wai Ola Alliance is a Hawaii environmental justice and conservation organization of dedicated residents, native Hawaiians, and legal counsel dedicated to the protection of the vital water resources and sacred lands that Hawaii is blessed with.
 

Sycamore Law, Inc. represents grassroots non-profits, tribes, and foundations in environmental advocacy, funding, and litigation. The firm has 29 years of experience with a specialty in water quality-related cases.
 

Margaret Wille & Associates LLLC is a general practice law firm in Hawaii with attorneys located in Honolulu and Hawaii Island.