$100 million appropriation is just the start of the price tag for emptying Red Hill reservoirs

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono said draining fuel from Red Hill tanks will take millions more — and cleaning up contamination will be a long-term effort.

Hirono, D-Hawaii, toured the fuel-contaminated Red Hill well with Navy leaders and then spoke with residents and businesses at the Navy Exchange Mall. The mall’s restaurants have been closed for nearly three months as residents weary from the crisis.

“Our ability to trust what the Navy is telling us has been shaken,” Hirono said.

Residents say the toll of the crisis is weighing on them.

“I’m not going to lie. This week I had one of the worst breakdowns I’ve had in my adult life. It’s been really difficult,” said Izzy Corcoran, who lives at the Aliamanu military reserve and says her husband is about to deploy. “Just thinking about dealing with all of this on your own is really scary.”

NEX restaurants have complained about the Navy’s lack of communication and lack of insurance compensation during the crisis.

“It’s depressing. I try not to go up because it’s depressing,” said Robert Mering, owner of Dairy Queen.

“Especially my employees, they beg to come back. They don’t want to come out,” he added.

On Friday, President Biden signed a bill providing $100 million to empty Red Hill’s fuel tanks. Hirono says Congress has asked for $500 million, so she continues to push for more and demands that any refueling come with a state permit.

But critics say that for years Congress ignored problems with underground fuel storage tanks despite warnings from the community about catastrophic leaks.

“The only property they’re taking on now is this idea that they’re part of the solution. They’ve been warned about this for years and they haven’t done anything,” said activist and filmmaker Mikey Inouye.

Hirono was careful with her words when asked if she was calling for a permanent shutdown of the Red Hill underground bulk fuel storage facility.

“In order to have a permanent shutdown, we have to make sure people can get home, which means we have to test and flush their pipes,” Hirono said.

“The second thing that happens if we are going to shut down Red Hill is refueling. It will require a lot of money. That’s why the bills I’m focusing on are the ones that will get us to the closure of Red Hill,” she added.

Hirono says she’s trying to convince the Department of Defense to come up with an alternative to Red Hill.

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Richard L. Militello