Water Utility Asks Navy to Stop Fighting Hawaii's Order

HONOLULU (AP) — The head of Honolulu’s water utility said he prays the Navy doesn’t continue fighting an order to remove fuel from massive tanks that a hearings officer concluded pose “a metaphorical ticking time bomb” threatening drinking water.

The Navy has until the end of Wednesday’s business day to file a response to the hearings officer’s recommendation upholding an order by Gov. David Ige to defuel the fuel storage facility the Navy owns near Pearl Harbor, which sits directly above a groundwater aquifer. The Navy contested the order, prompting hearings ahead of a final ruling from the department of health.

Ige issued the order after fuel leaked from the facility last month and contaminated the Navy’s tap water system serving some 93,000 people in and around Pearl Harbor.

Starting in late November, about a thousand people in military housing complained their water smelled like fuel, and hundreds complained of nausea, rashes and other physical ailments.

“We pray and ask ke akua to somehow touch the hearts of the Navy to say, ‘Don’t fight this,’” said Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer of the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, using a Hawaiian term that can mean God or deity.

The Navy must comply with the order “for the sake of our aquifer,” he said, “and if they have any hope of rebuilding trust with our community that they have lost.”

The agency, which manages water distribution for the island of Oahu, intervened because of concerns that the facility could threaten more than just the Navy’s own water system.

The Navy needs to admit that the facility, which began operating in 1943, has outlived its usefulness and that the fuel needs to be removed immediately, Lau said.

If the Navy persists in fighting the order, “the Board of Water Supply won’t give up,” Lau said. “And I’m not trying to threaten the Navy but understand that you are going to need to deal with us, whether you like it or not.”

A Navy spokesperson said officials have nothing more to add on Tuesday, pointing to a statement by Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, the Navy’s chief of information: “We are aware of the proposed decision and have no further statement at this time.”

Lau said he hadn’t yet received a response to a letter he sent last week asking President Joe Biden to intervene.

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