Navy Reprimands Red Hill Leaders 2 Years After Fuel Spills

Photo: Rear Adm. Timothy Kott, former commander of Navy Region Hawaii, has already retired. Under his leadership, there were no exercises to prepare to respond to fuel leaks at Red Hill, his censure letter states. (Navy photo)

The actions represent steps toward internal accountability for the Red Hill debacle that upended the lives of thousands of Pearl Harbor-area residents.

Three retired Navy officers have been censured by the Navy for leadership failures at the Red Hill fuel facility where leaks contaminated Pearl Harbor’s drinking water in 2021, the Navy said Thursday.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro sent letters of censure to retired Rear Adm. Peter Stamatopoulos, commander of the Naval Supply Systems Command during the spill; retired Rear Adm. John Korka, commander of Navy Facilities Engineering Command before the spill and retired Rear Adm. Timothy Kott, commander of Navy Region Hawaii during the spill.

The letters were recommended by Adm. Daryl Caudle, the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command who had been tasked with leading “accountability actions” for the Red Hill disaster.

Caudle, in the role of consolidated disposition authority, an independent review authority, considered all Navy service members whose performance “may have been reasonably called into question” in two 2021 spills, the Navy said in a press release.

“What happened was not acceptable and the Department of the Navy will continue to take every
action to identify and remedy this issue,” Del Toro said in a statement. “Taking accountability is a step in restoring the trust in our relationship with the community.”

“We can and will take care of our people, while also preserving and protecting our national security interests in the Pacific and at home,” he added. “I have determined that there were no leaders in relevant positions at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility worthy of an end of tour award over the period in question.”

A censure does not involve any loss of pay or rank, according to Lt. Cmdr. Joe Keiley, a Navy spokesman.

“It’s a formal notice,” he said. “It goes in their record.”

“My concern is without actual accountability, how does this motivate current and future leaders to prioritize our actual safety, our environment, all the things we need to survive in these islands?”

Sierra Club Director Wayne Tanaka

The consolidated disposition authority also issued “letters of instruction” to Rear Adm. Dean VanderLey and retired Rear Adm. Robert Chadwick. VanderLey was the commander of NAVFAC Pacific during the November 2021 spill. Chadwick was the commander of Navy Region Hawaii during the May 2021 spill.

A letter of instruction is “written guidance to correct a deficiency,” according to Keiley.

“It can be referenced in any of their official service documentation,” Keiley said. “It is shown to promotion boards and others when they are up for their next advancements.”

The letters issued to the Navy officials represent the steps toward internal accountability for the Red Hill debacle that upended the lives of thousands of Pearl Harbor-area residents.

Many of those residents have sued the Navy, arguing that they have debilitating health problems to this day and aren’t getting proper medical care from the military health care system.

The drinking water well that serves Pearl Harbor was contaminated following cascading failures – one fuel spill in May 2021 was not properly investigated followed by […]

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