Pentagon Asks for Another $1 Billion for Red Hill Facility that Tainted Water in Hawaii

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Contractor collects a water sample at Radford Terrace in Honolulu, Hawaii.
A Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command contractor collects a water sample at Radford Terrace in Honolulu, Hawaii as part of an interagency-approved plan for long-term monitoring of drinking water. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mar’Queon A. D. Tramble)

The Pentagon's latest budget request, released Monday, includes an ask for another $1 billion to help the Navy deal with the Red Hill fuel spill that has sickened and displaced thousands of military families in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The money, according to briefing documents released by the Department of Defense, would go toward a new recovery fund that would let the department "quickly and flexibly address the health, environmental, and national security needs of the community."

The spill, which was first discovered late last November, quickly became a major crisis for the Navy, which owns the facility. The contamination led to the displacement of thousands of military families and civilians who live in base housing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

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The Navy proceeded to launch a massive cleanup effort that led to the flushing and testing of homes in 11 neighborhoods. More recently, the Pentagon announced that the facility would be shut down, though the news came after demands by Hawaiian officials and a legal battle.

The $1 billion, if granted by Congress, would supplement an already appropriated $1 billion that the Pentagon got last year to deal with the spill. The department's chief financial officer, Michael McCord, told reporters that the money would "allow us to move in different directions; to address the dispersal of fuel, ... [and] where the litigation and the negotiations permit -- to start addressing remediation, to continue addressing the near term needs of the families."

McCord said the funding would involve "primarily the Navy or possibly also the Defense Logistics Agency." The Navy did not immediately answer questions for more details about the funding.

"We have a very ... visible commitment ... to do the right thing by both our military families and our neighbors in Hawaii represented by this billion-dollar investment," McCord said.

The Navy's top leader, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, apologized to families in December after the Navy initially said that it hadn't found contamination despite reports from residents of foul smelling water.

"I deeply apologize to each and every one of you and to the people of Hawaii that this incident may have been destructive to your lives in any way," Del Toro said at a town hall meeting.

According to a Navy website designed to provide updates after the contaminated water was identified, 9715 homes were ultimately impacted.

Currently, the Navy and the Defense Logistics Agency have until May 31 to deliver a plan of action to defuel the facility, according to a memo signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on March 7.

Once a plan is finalized, the Pentagon estimates that defueling could take up to 12 months.

Red Hill, a facility built into the side of a mountain ridge during World War II to protect it from attack, has 20 tanks -- 14 of which are currently in use.. Each tank can hold up to 12.5 million gallons of fuel that is used by both ships and planes throughout the Pacific region.

"Quite frankly, we owe you a return to normal," Austin told impacted families in his memo. "And you have my commitment to that end," he added.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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