Honolulu’s water contamination crisis worsens as second well shuts down, residents moved to hotels

Earlier this week, Hawaii Gov. David Ige issued an emergency order urging the Navy to act swiftly in decontaminating its Red Hill well and suspend fuel storage. Filed by the state Health Department, the order calls for a suspension of operations, the installation of a drinking water treatment system at Red Hill, and a work plan and schedule to be submitted within 30 days detailing how the Navy plans to drain fuel from its 20 underground tanks in a safe and timely manner, and submit an assessment within 30 days detailing what can be done to improve facilities so that the Navy can operate them safely. The Navy has vowed to contest the order.

A Navy spokesperson told the Honolulu Civil-Beat that the order was under legal review. A Department of Health hearing on the order has been postponed, though that meeting would’ve made the order “final and enforceable.” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro pushed back against even having to comply with the order, despite calling the crisis a “horrible tragedy” and signaling his commitment “to rebuilding this trust … It’s not an order,” Del Toro pushed back while speaking at a press conference on Monday. “It’s a request that’s being made.”

In the meantime, hundreds of families have moved into hotels in order to gain access to clean drinking water with the Navy footing the bill. The Navy declined to specify an exact number of how many residents are eligible or have taken the military up on its offer, though a spokesperson said that “a significant percentage” have chosen to do so. The Hawaii Hotel Alliance told the Honolulu Civil-Beat that 1,825 rooms have been made available to effected families. In addition to lodging, they will receive compensation from the Navy for meals.

The emergency option is certainly better than nothing, but with no timeline and little cooperation from the Navy, many worry about how long it will take until they can safely move home and whether they can even trust the Navy at all. According to PBS, the facility that includes Red Hill has suffered from leaks since 1949 with major incidents occurring as recently as May 2021. The pipeline leak, which led to 1,600 gallons of jet fuel being spilled, resulted in the Hawaii Department of Health fining the Navy $325,000 for violations.

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