Pentagon orders permanent closure of Red Hill fuel storage facility in Hawaii

A fuel leak at the site affected thousands residents on Oahu, driving many from their homes.
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Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley
Caroline Brehman-Pool / Getty Images

The Pentagon has ordered the permanent closure of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility months after fuel leaked from the underground tanks into the water supply in Oahu.

The decision came after consultation with senior civilian and military leaders, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement Monday.

"No later than May 31, the Secretary of the Navy and Director of the Defense Logistics Agency will provide an action plan for safe and expeditious defueling of the facility, with a completion date target of 12 months," Austin said in the statement. "Then, as soon as we have made corrective actions to ensure that defueling will be safe, we will begin defueling."

The fuel will be repositioned to land and afloat locations, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Monday during a news conference.

"This will meet our national security objectives by better positioning the United States to meet future challenges in the Pacific region while ensuring environmental stewardship and protecting the population," Kirby said.

The fuel leak affected of thousands residents on Oahu, driving many from their homes. The Hawaii Department of Health ordered the U.S. Navy to defuel the storage tanks at the site, which consists of "20 steel-lined underground storage tanks encased in concrete" that can hold up to 250 million gallons of fuel. The U.S. Navy was appealing that order.

The leak has cost at least $347 million in what includes temporary lodging, meals and expenses of affected families, businesses and other entities, Rear Adm. Charles Brown, chief of information for the Navy, said in an email to The Center Square last month.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz spearheaded an effort to secure $100 million in federal funding to defuel the tanks last month and introduced legislation in the Senate to permanently shut down Red Hill.

“There will be challenges ahead, but make no mistake: Red Hill will be shut down,” Schatz, D-Hawaii, said in a statement. “In order to implement this decision, we’re going to have to provide additional resources and hold [Department of Defense's] feet to the fire through congressional oversight."

The facility "made sense" when it was built in 1943 but makes less sense now, Austin said.

"The distributed and dynamic nature of our force posture in the Indo-Pacific, the sophisticated threats we face, and the technology available to us demand an equally advanced and resilient fueling capability." Austin said.

The facility has not been in use since it was shut down in December, Kirby said during Monday's news conference. A team working there will shift from clean-up duties to creating a plan for defueling.

Once the storage facility is closed, the Department of Defense will work with communities in Hawaii to determine how the land will be used, Austin said.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige praised the Pentagon's decision.

"This is great news for the people of Hawaii," Ige said in a Twitter post. "Our national defense begins with the health and safety of our people, and there are better solutions for strategic fueling today than there were when the Red Hill storage facility was built."