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Criminal Inquiry into Red Hill Fuel Spills Ongoing

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The Navy captain who was in charge of the Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor during the May 2021 Red Hill jet fuel spill is not a target of the U.S. Department of Justice’s ongoing criminal investigation into the environmental disaster that affected about 93, 000 people, his attorney told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Capt. Trent C. Kalp, 51, was in charge during the May 2021 fuel leak and was succeeded by Capt. Albert L. Hornyak on Aug. 6, 2021, before the November 2021 spill. Hornyak was removed of his command in April 2022 “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to perform his duties following a series of leadership and oversight failures at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.”

Hornyak raised concerns about the facility’s safety in leaked emails obtained by the Star-Advertiser.

Kalp testified before the grand jury Dec. 8 and has not received a target letter from DOJ, according to his attorney, Victor J. Bakke.

“We received a letter requesting his appearance, and we voluntarily appeared, ” said Bakke in an interview with the Star-Advertiser. “At this time, to our knowledge, we are not a target of the investigation.”

Kalp is currently director of fleet supply.

The report on the spill prepared by the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet noted that Kalp removed military oversight of day-to-day operations at Red Hill just a few months prior to the May 2021 leak, causing a “significantly ” increased risk at the facility.

It also found that he failed to “identify, mitigate, or directly address these risks, ” oversaw an “alarming level of procedural non-compliance, ” on May 6, 2021, and demonstrated an overall lack of critical thinking and leadership.

DOJ is in the midst of a federal grand jury investigation into the 2021 Red Hill fuel spill to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

Civilian and U.S. Department of Defense officials in charge of Red Hill operations during the fuel leaks have been testifying before the panel.

Those officials include civilian contractors working at Red Hill at the time of the spills and Navy commanders like Kalp.

Sherri R. Eng, 56, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command environmental business line leader and Navy Region Hawaii environmental program manager, was also interviewed by the grand jury. Eng did not immediately reply to Star-Advertiser requests for comment.

Special agents with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have been shepherding witnesses to the panel and supporting the grand jury’s investigation for months.

Despite witnesses walking into and out of the U.S. District Courthouse in Honolulu en route to the proceedings and the high-profile nature of the spills that sickened thousands and threatened Oahu’s aquifers, federal officials are saying nothing about the criminal probe.

“Out of respect for the investigative process, NCIS does not comment on or confirm details relating to ongoing investigations, ” Jeff Houston, a spokesperson for NCIS Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., told the Star-Advertiser in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet told the Star-Advertiser in a statement, “It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The U.S. Department of Justice also declined to discuss the investigation into whether criminal charges are warranted.

“As a general matter, the department will neither confirm nor deny the existence of an ongoing investigation, ” said Wyn Hornbuckle, deputy director of DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs, in a statement to the Star-Advertiser.

The probe is being led by Krishna S. Dighe, senior counsel with DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, which is tasked with enforcing “the Nation’s civil and criminal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and hazardous waste laws.”

The water contamination affected roughly 93, 000 people, mainly military families. For months the state Department of Health issued an advisory that the water was unsafe to drink. Thousands of families relocated to hotel rooms or moved out of their housing as the Navy and regulators worked to make the water safe to drink. The all-clear was declared in March 2022, about four months after the jet fuel contamination was found.

In March 2022, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the department would permanently shut down the Red Hill facility following the disaster. The decision came amid withering pressure from state officials, the Hawaii congressional delegation, protests and extensive community opposition to keeping the under ­-ground, World War II-era fuel facility in operation.

The management of the Red Hill fuel spills and the disclosures of information have eroded local trust in the Navy. Defueling of the Red Hill facility is projected to be completed in July 2024.—— Star-Advertiser staff writer Kevin Knodell contributed to this report.

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