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Navy drops lawsuit against Hawaii over Red Hill defuelment

Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility Pump Room. (Shannon Haney/U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Department of Justice has withdrawn its lawsuit filed in federal and state courts in February that contested the state’s emergency order instructing the Navy to drain its Red Hill fuel tanks following a fuel spill that contaminated the Navy’s drinking water system and sickened residents in neighborhoods around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

“By dismissing its appeals, it is acknowledging that the Department of Health can exercise its emergency authority to keep us all safe, ” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who is representing the Hawaii Sierra Club in matters related to Red Hill.

“This is a wonderful Earth Day present to the residents of Oahu, ” he added.

A month after attorneys for the Navy sued the Hawaii’s Department of Health over its emergency order, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in March ordered the Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility to be drained and permanently shut down. The decision seemed to put an end to boiling criticism of the Navy and growing calls from Hawaii’s political leadership, as well as the Hawaii Sierra Club and Honolulu Board of Water Supply, to shut down the facility.

However, the sense of triumph over the military was tempered by the fact that the Navy did not simultaneously drop its lawsuit against the state as expected, spurring fears that it might renege on its pledge. At the time, Department of Justice officials didn’t respond to media questions asking why the lawsuit had not been dropped.

The motions to withdraw the lawsuit were filed in federal and state courts this afternoon.

Henkin said that the move also signifies that the military will likely be on a shorter timeframe to drain the tanks, as stipulated in the state’s emergency order. Military officials had indicated that it could take a year to drain the tanks. DOH had ordered it be done in 30 days.

DOH has said its amending its emergency order, though details of those changes have not been released.

The Red Hill fuel facility contains 18 active World War II-era tanks that have a long history of leaks.


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