Protecting The Pila‘a Coral Reef

The reef at Pīla‘a is a favorite spot for diving and swimming, and subsistence fishing and gathering of limu (seaweed).


David Henkin

Regional Office / Program

Case Overview

In developing his luxury subdivision on the north shore of Kaua‘i, retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger failed to implement erosion and storm water control measures required under both the federal Clean Water Act and Hawai‘i’s water pollution laws. The resulting uncontrolled runoff sent rivers of muck and debris washing into the Pacific, smothering the reef at Pīla‘a and despoiling a favorite spot for diving and swimming, and subsistence fishing and gathering of limu (seaweed).

Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of Kaua‘i community organizations and successfully negotiated a settlement in 2006 that required Pflueger to pay nearly $8 million in fines and environmental projects to resolve his Clean Water Act violations. In addition, Pflueger has paid $500,000 in fines and pled guilty to ten criminal violations of Hawai‘i’s water pollution laws, the Hawai’i Board of Land and Natural Resources fined Pflueger over $4 million for damage to the beach, reef, and marine environment at Pīla‘a associated with the mudslide, and Pflueger has paid the County of Kaua’i $310,000 for violations of Special Management Area and Shoreline Setback laws at Pīla‘a.

During more than three years of negotiations, expert hydrologists, engineers, biologists, and botanists retained by the community groups and defendants worked collaboratively with federal, state, and county agencies to develop remediation plans that will not only prevent further polluted discharges into Pīla‘a’s streams and ocean, but will also help restore native ecosystem function. The remedial work the settlement requires uses native trees, shrubs, and stream vegetation to control run-off and erosion throughout the ahupua‘a and to bring life back to three streams into which Pflueger illegally dumped dirt and rocks to create fantasy pools and a roadway for his now-abandoned luxury subdivision.

Looking out over Pila'a reef on Kaua'i.
Looking out over Pila'a reef on Kaua'i. (Photo courtesy of Gord Webster)

Case Updates

Looking out over Pila'a reef on Kaua'i.
August 24, 2016 Press Release

Citizen Enforcement Secures Stream Restoration, Reef Protection on Kaua‘i

“Our hope is that this settlement served as notice to other developers about the importance of complying with these laws from the beginning of a project.”

March 9, 2006 Press Release

Kaua'i Community Groups, Developer Settle Clean Water Act Suit

Developer to pay nearly $8 million in fines, environmental projects

August 19, 2002 Press Release

Federal Lawsuit Filed to Protect Coral Reef on Kaua`i

Irrisponsible development threatens traditional practices