Feb. 1 (Reuters) – The Navy announced Tuesday that it has hired Hawaii-based Nakupuna Cos. issued a contract to develop a public outreach program to seek suggestions for how the underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility could be reused after the military removed the approximately 104 million gallons of fuel used up in the facility’s aging tanks from the time of World War II.
The Navy announced Tuesday that it has hired Hawaii-based Nakupuna Cos. has been given a contract to develop a public relations program to seek suggestions for how the underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility can be reused after the military removed the roughly 104 million gallons of fuel in the facility’s aging tanks from the time stored during World War II.
“Nakupuna and his team of sub-advisers will seek and review any ideas received from the community, with a focus on Oahu’s citizens,” the Navy said in a news release Tuesday. “Based on this input, the Navy will meet with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) to select the top five ideas from the public with the greatest merit and utility for further consideration. The top five ideas are further evaluated for feasibility considering environmental, technical, maintenance, safety, cost and benefit. The final analysis is submitted to the state, DOH, and EPA for review and review.
In its press release, the Navy called Nakupuna “a local small business owned by Native Hawaiians.” Nakupuna officials could not be reached for comment and did not respond to an email from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, but according to the company’s website it was “established to provide knowledge-based services to Department of Defense and government customers” and maintains offices in Hono lulu and Washington, DC; and in Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
According to the Hawaii Defense Economy Project, Nakupuna’s subsidiaries have received at least $8,842,500 in military contracts since 2020.
Red Hill’s tanks sit just 100 feet above a critical aquifer that most of Honolulu depends on for clean drinking water. In November 2021, fuel from the facility spilled into Red Hill’s water well, contaminating the Navy’s water system on Oahu, which serves 93,000 people — including both military families and civilians living in former military barracks. After initially resisting a government emergency order to defuel the tanks, the Pentagon announced in March that it would defuel the facility and shut it down permanently.
Military officials later surprised local officials and community members by saying they were already looking at ways to “repurpose” the facility after defuelling. Although military officials have touted the possibility of a “beneficial reuse” of the Red Hill facility, reception from local authorities and community organizations has been lukewarm at best. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply and the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club have both raised safety concerns, and state Department of Health officials said it was not clear that Hawaii state law would allow reuse.
During a November news conference on Oahu, Meredith Berger, the Navy’s assistant secretary for energy, facilities and the environment, told reporters, “We’re going to continue to make sure we’re protecting the environment, the people and the community, and we’re not — I want to make sure.” That is very clear – we will not pursue any beneficial reuse option that would contain potential contaminants and none of the options that we have put on the table would be fuel reuse.
But during a November meeting of the state’s Red Hill Fuel Tank Advisory Committee, BWS manager and chief engineer Ernie Lau said, “If the tank liners are still there, the pipes that carry the fuel to and from Pearl Harbor, if everything’s still in place, we are just one degree of freedom to go back to fuel storage via the aquifer.
Defense officials have been reluctant to discuss specific reuses of the Red Hill facility, but have floated the idea of using it as a hydroelectric power plant to provide an alternative source of energy, an idea that has been floated in the past. During a press release in November marking the anniversary of the water crisis, Rear Admiral, Hawaii Navy Region Stephen Barnett said “there are a lot of good ideas and things that people are recommending,” but gave no specifics.