Commander overseeing Red Hill’s defueling says he’s ‘committed to getting this right’
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow/Gray News) - The commander charged with overseeing the defueling of the Red Hill underground facility said he’s “absolutely committed” to safely emptying the fuel tanks as quickly as possible.
“I intend to honor my commitments to this mission,” Rear Admiral John Wade said, at a news conference Monday.
Wade is heading up a joint task force of about 120 professionals who will be shepherding the immensely complicated work of emptying more than 100 million gallons of fuel from the tanks.
Those tanks sit just above a key aquifer that serves much of Honolulu.
“As long as the fuel is in those tanks, there is an imminent threat to the health of the community and also the environment,” said Wade.
He said defueling was urgent, but stopped short of calling it an “emergency.”
“I haven’t heard the word ‘emergency’ come out of the Secretary’s (Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin) statements,” Wade told reporters.
The Department of Defense has submitted a proposal that seeks to empty the tanks by July 2024.
The first steps in defueling, a project set to cost about $280 million, is taking fuel out of the pipelines ― something slated to happen in about two weeks ― and then making repairs to the tanks to prevent new spills.
Fuel leaks from Red Hill contaminated the Navy’s water system last year, triggering a months-long crisis that sickened thousands and prompted wider concern over potential long-term health impacts.
Wade said he and his family were personally impacted by the crisis, but did not live in an affected neighborhood.
“I understand the enormity of this mission,” he told reporters.
“I think many in our community are concerned about the long-term health impact here and that’s why the Department of the Navy and all the other services are doing the health monitoring,” Wade added.
Wade has been meeting with Hawaii officials since his appointment.
One notable meeting was with Board of Water Supply Chief Engineer Ernie Lau, who for years has been warning about the fuel sitting just 100 feet above Oahu’s aquifer.
The commander says he’s also considering creating a community advisory board.
While Wade has 32 years of experience in the military and was operations director at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, he doesn’t have any experience with fuels and he couldn’t elaborate on fuel experience of his team.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Red Hill and met with families affected by the drinking water crisis. The meeting was private and officials would not say how many families were there.
But in a statement, Austin said that closing Red Hill is “the right thing to do.”
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