The Navy announced Tuesday that it has awarded a contract to Hawaii-based Nakupuna Cos. to develop a public outreach program to look for proposals on how to repurpose the underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility after the military removes the roughly 104 million gallons of fuel stored in the facility's aging World War II-era tanks.
"Nakupuna and its team of sub-consultants will solicit and consider all ideas received from the community with an emphasis on citizens on Oahu, " the Navy said in a Tuesday news release. "Based on this input, the Navy will meet with the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) and Hawaii Department of Health (DOH ) to select the top five ideas, from the public, with the most merit and benefit for further consideration. The top five ideas will be further evaluated on feasibility considering environmental, engineering, maintenance, safety, cost and benefit. The final analysis will be presented to the state, DOH and EPA for review and consideration."
In its news release, the Navy called Nakupuna "a Native Hawaiian-owned and local small business." Representatives of Nakupuna 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 clients " and maintains offices in Hono lulu and Washington, D.C., as well as in Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
According to data from the Hawaii Defense Economy project, Nakupuna's subsidiaries have received at least $8, 842, 500 in military contracts since 2020.
The Red Hill tanks sit just 100 feet above a critical aquifer that most of Honolulu relies on for clean drinking water. In November 2021, fuel from the facility leaked into the Red Hill water well, contaminating the Navy's Oahu water system, which serves 93, 000 people—including both military families and civilians who live in former military housing areas. After initially resisting a state emergency order to defuel the tanks, the Pentagon in March announced it would defuel and permanently shut down the facility.
Military officials later surprised local officials and community members when they said they were already exploring ways to "re-purpose " the facility after it's defueled. Though military officials have touted the possibility of "beneficial reuse " of the Red Hill facility, reception has been lukewarm at best from local agencies and community organizations. 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 have said it's not clear Hawaii state law would permit reuse.
During a November news conference on Oahu, Meredith Berger, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment, told reporters, "We will continue to make sure we are protective of the environment, of the people and of the community, and we are not—I want to make sure this is very clear—we are not going to pursue any beneficial reuse option that would contain potential contaminants, and none of the options that we have laid on the table would be a 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 move fuel to and from Pearl Harbor, if everything is still there in place, we are only one degree of freedom from getting back to fuel storage over the aquifer."
Defense officials have been hesitant to discuss specific reuses of the Red Hill facility but have floated the idea of using it as a hydroelectric plant to provide an alternative energy source, an idea that has been floated in the past. During a November news release marking the anniversary of the water crisis, Navy Region Hawaii Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett said "there's a lot of good ideas and things that folks are recommending " but did not offer specifics.
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