HONOLULU — Attorneys for the U.S. Navy on Wednesday appealed Hawaii’s order that it drain massive tanks that store fuel in the hills above Pearl Harbor, saying the state wrongly concluded the tanks posed an imminent threat that requires immediate action.
A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu asks a judge to stop the order.
The motion said the Navy hopes to resolve its differences with Hawaii through negotiation but filed a complaint anyway because of time restrictions under Hawaii law.
Attorneys for the Navy filed a similar motion in state court in case a federal judge decided not to act on its complaint, the filing said.
Hawaii last month ordered the Navy to drain its tanks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Facility after fuel leaked from the complex into a drinking water well and contaminated tap water at Pearl Harbor homes and offices.
Thousands of people have been treated for physical ailments and 4,000 military families are staying in hotels because of the leak.
The defendant in the case, the state Department of Health, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige issued his emergency order on Dec. 6. The Navy appealed, prompting the state Department of Health to hold a hearing to consider the challenge. The department’s deputy director then issued a final order on Jan. 3.
The Navy said last month it would comply with the final order but on Monday Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said it would appeal. Doing so would give the military time “to make evidence-based and transparent decisions,” she said in a statement.
Wednesday’s complaint said the Nov. 20 leak of fuel into the Navy’s drinking water system was an emergency. It outlined steps the Navy took to address this emergency, including providing bottled water, laundry service and alternative housing to those affected.
But it argued that the state failed to present evidence that the Red Hill facility itself presented an “imminent peril.”
It said the Department of Health failed to give the Navy sufficient opportunity to present evidence and argue whether such imminent peril exists.
David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice, said he would fight to keep the case in state court. Earthjustice is representing the Sierra Club of Hawaii, which intervened in the case as an interested party.
“The Navy’s federal court filing attempts an end run around the bedrock principle of federalism on which our country was founded. State courts, not federal courts, interpret state laws. We will fight vigorously to keep this case in state court, where it belongs,” Henkin said.