Pentagon pursues contract to study nonfuel uses for Red Hill
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser March 12, 2023
HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — While the contract with the two firms will focus on collecting ideas from local residents, the Navy is in the process of awarding a separate contract to a private-sector partner to determine a range of possible Department of Defense uses for the fuel storage facility.
Two local companies, CommPac and SMS Hawaii, will be assisting defense contractor Nakupuna Cos. in conducting public outreach and soliciting community ideas about alternative uses for the Navy’s Red Hill facility once its closed for fueling operations.
While the contract with the two firms will focus on collecting ideas from local residents, the Navy is in the process of awarding a separate contract to a private-sector partner to determine a range of possible Department of Defense uses for the fuel storage facility.
A few ideas for repurposing Red Hill have been floated publicly, such as storing drinking water in the tanks or using Red Hill as a hydroelectric plant, but uncertainty remains as to whether the World War II-era facility can be repurposed at all and whether leaving the infrastructure in the ground could pose long-term environmental risks.
The review of possibilities isn’t expected to be completed until early next year.
The DOD-focused contract was inserted by Congress into the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which allocates defense spending. The act requires DOD to award a contract to a to engage with stakeholders, review historical uses of facilities that have similar characteristics to Red Hill and conduct other research as needed to identify potential uses.
A Navy spokesperson said the contract will be awarded by the end of March but the name of the company and the cost of the contract won’t be disclosed because it’s still being negotiated.
The contractor is expected to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of potential uses that looks at design and construction costs, potential benefits to the military and local economy, and any environmental impacts.
The NDAA specifies the study must be completed by February 2024 and made publicly available.
A separate Office of Naval Research grant of $100, 000 was awarded to the University of Hawaii in November to study potential alternative-energy storage uses for the Red Hill tanks.
The Navy is in the process of permanently closing Red Hill after a fuel leak at the facility contaminated the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam drinking water system, sickening military families. Fuel operations were discontinued shortly after the leak and the Navy is embarking on $75 million worth of infrastructure repairs and upgrades to ensure that draining the approximately 104 million gallons of fuel sitting in the tanks is done safely.
DOD also is working on a permanent closure plan for the facility, which includes environmental remediation, that must be approved by the state Department of Health. Owners of underground fuel tanks typically have three options when closing a facility : remove the tanks, fill them in or leave them in the ground.
Defense officials have indicated that rather than removing the underground facility, which includes 20 tanks and extensive pipelines that lead down to Pearl Harbor, it wants to keep the infrastructure in the ground and potentially find another use for it. Figuring out how to repurpose the aging facility that’s unlike any other in the country has sparked skepticism from groups including the Hawaii Sierra Club and Honolulu Board of Water Supply.
The 20 steel-lined tanks are encased in concrete and built into massive cavities that were mined into the ground at Red Hill. Those cavities lie under approximately 100 feet of rock. Three underground pipelines run about 3.5 miles to Pearl Harbor fueling piers.
The design of the facility is such that just filling in the tanks with an inert material after its defueled would be risky for workers because there’s so little room to stage material and equipment, according to a, while trying to remove the tanks could destabilize the ground below and result in a catastrophic failure.
The Navy currently estimates that closing the facility in place could be done in two to three years after Red Hill is defueled, and that implementing an alternative use for Red Hill could delay the timeframe by another year, though that estimate is highly uncertain because the Navy hasn’t identified another use.
DOH NEEDS to approve the Navy’s closure plan, but Meredith Berger, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last month that, ultimately, it is up to defense officials to decide any future uses for Red Hill. She has emphasized it will not be used for storing fuel or any other potential contaminant.
A critical drinking water aquifer for Oahu sits just 100 feet below the tanks.
“This is a call that we will make in collaboration with the community and with our partners at the Department of Health, “ \she told the Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii \“ live-stream program Feb. 8, when asked who gets to decide on what, if anything, Red Hill is used for in the future. “It is a Navy facility and so we are ultimately, because it is our facility, in charge of making that disposition. But this is a place where we are eagerly seeking the collaboration and inputs of the community because it is something that we want to do thoughtfully and together. But if we are talking specifically, it is a Navy facility so we are the owners of it.”
Nakupuna Cos. was awarded a half-million-dollar public outreach contract earlier this year to solicit ideas from the community. Initially about their plans, refusing to release the names of the subcontractors and details about how Nakupuna planned to gather information from the public.
Since then, the Navy has disclosed that CommPac and SMS Hawaii are the subcontractors.
COMMPAC CEO Kitty Yannone said her public relations firm will be conducting initial one-on-one interviews with 20 to 30 members of the community to gauge sentiment about Red Hill. She said the idea is to delve deeper into the community to get a better read on how people are feeling.
“They may not work on Bishop Street or be in the Legislature,“ said Yannone, stressing the company wants to hear diverse views about Red Hill.
Yannone said CommPac’s work will go beyond just asking regular people if they have an idea about how to repurpose Red Hill.
“I think we don’t resolve things until we hear about how it’s really affected people,“ she said.
Yannone said the talk-story sessions, which will be largely open-ended, will assist the work of SMS Hawaii, a research firm that will be conducting community surveys.
One survey will be and available to the general public to provide suggestions for repurposing Red Hill, said Nakupuna spokesperson Andy Minor. He said the survey also will gather information about how people are learning about Red Hill and what more they would like to know.
He said a separate survey will be conducted by mail and sent out to residents in areas surrounding Red Hill, as well as be available online to Oahu residents. This survey will be a followup to information collected from the first survey.
“After the completion of the surveys, Nakupuna and our partners will synthesize the recommendations collected from both the surveys and outreach and present them in a report to the Navy, “Minor said by email. “Our team’s job is to make sure that our community’s voice is represented and heard as the Navy plans for the beneficial re-use of the facility.”
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