Red Hill’s Fuel Director Raised An Alarm Before Pipes Leaked. The Navy Removed Her

Photo: Navy. Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Bencs, photographed walking through a Red Hill tunnel. (U.S. Navy photo/2020)

[H2O IQ ed: In the early days of the Red Hill duel spill, it seemed clear to us that some Navy representatives were treating the incident as a public-relations problem to be addressed instead of an imminent threat to the island’s main aquifer and the public-health of both civilians and military personnel.]

Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Bencs reported problems with Red Hill’s infrastructure and leadership culture just months before fuel leaks contaminated the drinking water.

The fuel director insisted something wasn’t right.

Higher-ups were preventing her from reporting a fuel leak at Pearl Harbor and were misusing federal funds to cover it up, she said. And there were serious issues with the Red Hill fuel facility’s $54 million fire suppression system that had just been installed — namely, it was never fully functional.

When the director spoke up, she said she was silenced, sidelined and ultimately, “I was removed.”

Her responsibilities were taken away and she was told to report to the deputy fuel director – her subordinate.

Navy. Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Bencs, pictured right, said she expressed concerns about the facility’s leadership and infrastructure but was ignored, in part because she is a woman. (NAVSUP/2020)

She reported all this to the Navy Inspector General in late February 2021, records show.

About two months later, in May, some 20,000 gallons of fuel gushed from a Red Hill pipeline. It was sucked up by a fire suppression system that, because it was defective, failed to remove the contents from the facility as designed. So the fuel sat stagnant within a PVC pipe for months.

In November, the PVC pipe was damaged, and it spit the fuel back out. This time, the fuel contaminated a nearby drinking water well serving 93,000 people around Pearl Harbor.

The incident sickened hundreds of military families, drew public outrage and prompted the U.S. Department of Defense to make plans to shutter a World War II-era fuel depot it had stubbornly intended to keep open.

Former Red Hill fuel director Shannon Bencs’ alarm about […]

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