- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaii state Department of Health on Monday announced a tentative deal with the military to better prevent and detect leaks from 20 giant fuel storage tanks near Pearl Harbor.

The proposed agreement announced Monday commits the Navy to installing improved technologies at the Red Hill facility. Fines may be imposed if the work isn’t conducted in accordance with the plan.

The agreement calls for a feasibility study to examine options to upgrade tanks. Each storage tank that is in service would be upgraded over the next 20 years. The cost is expected to run into the tens of millions of dollars, the agencies said in a joint statement.

“This agreement will ensure the safety of Oahu’s drinking water supply, while allowing the Red Hill tanks to remain in use as a resource for our national defense,” Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in the statement.

Last year, the Navy detected a leak of 27,000 gallons of fuel from one tank. Samples from nearby water-monitoring wells indicated a spike in hydrocarbons.

The Navy owns the tanks, which at 250 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter are the largest of their kind in the world. They were built in the 1940s. They supply fuel to Navy ships and aircraft as well as to other military services.

Public comment on the plan will be accepted during the next month. A public meeting has been scheduled for June 18 at Moanalua Middle School.

The plan will allow for “well-researched, well-planned and cost-effective improvements to protect the groundwater resources,” said Keith Kawaoka, the Department of Health’s deputy director for environmental health.

Gary Gill, who was the department’s deputy director under former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, noted leaks have been a problem at Red Hill since the tanks were built 70 years ago. But the problems came into clearer focus after last year’s spill, Gill said.

Resulting groundwater contamination hasn’t reached Honolulu Board of Water Supply water sources, so the general public’s water has been unaffected to date. But existing Board of Water Supply wells are just a mile away.

The public should pay close attention to what steps the Navy will be taking, Gill said.

“There’s a lot that remains unknown with this agreement as to how the tanks will be upgraded, with what technology, and over what timeline and how much that will cost,” Gill said. “So the need for eternal vigilance and oversight on this facility is going to continue rightfully for a couple decades at least.”

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