Morgan Lewis Partner Notches Win for Honolulu Residents Over Contaminated Water

by | Jan 12, 2022

A Morgan Lewis team led by partner Ella Foley Gannon delivered a decisive win to thousands of Honolulu residents who were forced to relocate from their homes and seek medical attention for fuel-based exposures to their drinking water.

On January 3, the Hawaii Department of Health affirmed an emergency order requiring the U.S. Navy to shut down its Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility near Pearl Harbor. The Navy must also make plans to defuel the approximately 187 million gallons of petroleum stored there.

Ella Foley Gannon

According to media reports, about 1,000 people living near the tanks started to complain in November about their drinking water, reporting “vapors, discoloration and contamination.”

Gannon represents the Honolulu Board of Water Supply in a series of administrative proceedings and potential lawsuits arising from the contamination.

With less than a week’s notice, and despite the rapidly spreading COVID variant, Ella’s team gathered in person to prepare for and participate in a Zoom administrative proceeding on December 20. Under Ella’s leadership, they were successful in persuading the hearing officer and the deputy director of Hawaii’s Department of Health that the emergency order must be heeded by the Navy.

The Navy had opposed the initial emergency order issued on December 6. It argued that it had already taken appropriate action to address any immediate impacts on human health or the environment. Further, it said, defueling the Red Hill facility was a non-emergency, long-term action neither justified nor necessary by the Hawaii Department of Health’s emergency powers.

The Navy has since said it will comply with the order to shut down the facility. In January at a hearing before the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness, Blake Converse, rear admiral of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said, “The Navy caused this problem. We own it. And we’re going to fix it.”