- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Three state Senate committees on Friday passed two bills aimed at helping Hawaii protect against fuel leaks from underground storage tanks owned by the military.

The move comes amid concern for the safety of Hawaii’s water supplies after the Navy in 2014 detected a leak of 27,000 gallons from a Red Hill tank, which sits atop a large aquifer on Oahu.

During a joint hearing, the committees passed legislation that would create Department of Health positions to monitor the Navy’s fulfillment of an agreement aimed at preventing and detecting leaks from the 20 giant fuel storage tanks built into the side of a mountain at Red Hill. The agreement, reached between the Navy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Hawaii state Department of Health last year, calls for studying options for upgrading the tanks and then fixing them over the next 20 years.

The bill calls for hiring an engineer, geologist and environmental health specialist and for appropriating $300,000 for operations.

Sen. Roslyn Baker, a Democrat representing south and west Maui, said the committee would note in its report that they would prefer the funds for this be included in the state’s budget because monitoring the Navy’s progress will be a long-term activity.

The committee amended the bill to remove language calling for the construction of two monitoring wells near Red Hill. Committee members cited Department of Health testimony reporting the Navy will be building at least four monitoring wells and is required to build others as necessary so the provision isn’t needed.

Navy Capt. Mark Manfredi, the chief of staff at Navy Region Hawaii, told the lawmakers there was no indication any Red Hill tanks are leaking today. He says there was also no indication the tanks are actively corroding. He said the Navy would test further to ensure the tanks remain tight.

The three committees - which are responsible for health, military and environmental issues at the state Senate - also passed a bill creating a panel of military and state officials to study underground fuel tank leaks at military facilities.

The panel would study the short and long-term effects of leaks and strategies to limit the effects of leaks. The group would include representatives from the Navy, Army and Air Force and state agencies. Its coverage area would include Red Hill, Pearl Harbor, Hickam and Schofield Barracks on Oahu and the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.

Both bills now go to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

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