Moloka`i Citizens Sue for Environmental Review of Cruise Ship Visits

Environmental and cultural impacts not addressed as required by state law


Isaac Moriwake, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436

Moloka`i community group Hui Ho`opakele `Aina (the “Hui”), represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit today in the Circuit Court of the State of Hawai’i, Second Circuit, challenging the decisions of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) of the State of Hawai’i to approve the first-ever cruise ship visits to Kaunakakai, Moloka`i scheduled to begin on December 28, 2002. The suit seeks to compel the state agencies and cruise ship companies to comply with state laws mandating a public process of evaluating the environmental and cultural impacts of the cruise ship visits, and to stop the visits from proceeding until such process has duly run its course.

“Bringing the cruise ship industry to Moloka`i will affect the island on every level: ecological, social, cultural, and economic,” said Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake. “The law requires the state and cruise industry to provide the people of Moloka`i a public forum to identify and address all these impacts. This must be done ahead of time, not after-the-fact.”

Hui members are concerned about the impacts of gigantic cruise ships anchoring and operating in the marine environment of Moloka`i’s south shore, which features one of the largest barrier reefs in the nation and the most concentrated collections of loko i`a (Hawaiian fishponds) in the state. These natural and cultural resources support various public and commercial uses, including subsistence activities, which a 1994 study commissioned by the state Governor found supplies 28% of the food of Moloka`i residents, and 38% of the food for Native Hawaiians.

Hui members are also troubled about the effects of thousands of visitors flooding the tiny town Kaunakakai and other areas throughout the island. Moloka`i has a total population of about 7,000, and is renown for its traditional rural and Native Hawaiian culture that has earned it the nickname, “The Last Hawaiian Island.”

“We want to know what kinds of substances will be going into the nearshore waters where our community members gather and fish to provide food for our families and sustain our culture,” Hui member Walter Ritte, Jr. remarked. “We want to know how a town with no stoplights and one public restroom is going to handle thousands of visitors all at once. No one has given us any answers, or even an opportunity to ask the questions.”

Several cruise ships owned by Holland America Line and Princess Cruise Lines are planning at least eight visits to Moloka`i through 2004. The ships intend to call at the small boat harbor of Kaunakakai, Molokai, located in the central part of the island’s south shore. The first ship to scheduled to arrive is Holland America Line’s ms Statendam. The ms Statendam will anchor offshore, and tenders will ferry passengers to and from Kaunakakai Harbor. Various onshore activities have been arranged around the island during the ship’s day-long visit.

Because the cruise ship visits to Moloka`i will involve use of state lands in anchoring the ship and embarking and disembarking passengers, they fall under the Hawai’i Environmental Policy Act (“HEPA”), which requires the responsible state agencies and private parties to undertake an environmental review process that includes early consultation with citizen groups, as well as preparation and circulation of documents assessing the impacts of the proposed action. The ship visits are also subject to article XII, section 7 of the Hawai’i Constitution, which requires the state to consider specifically the impact of its actions on the traditionally and customarily exercised rights of Native Hawaiians.

DOT and DLNR, however, have not complied with these requirements in approving the visits to Kaunakakai. Their discussions with the cruise ships have instead focused on technical issues such as logistics, safety, and port fees.

“In all the planning of the visits, no one has bothered to ask the people of Moloka`i what we think,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee and Hui member Colette Machado. “We have been told that the ships are coming ‘like it or not.’ That’s not right as a matter of common courtesy, let alone the law.”

Cruise ships like the ms Statendam produce massive volumes of wastes, including sewage, nonsewage wastewater or gray water, ballast water, oily bilge water, air pollution, solid waste, and hazardous waste, each of which may harm sensitive marine ecosystems like Molokai’s through the addition of harmful pathogens and chemicals or introduction of alien species. The lack of effective legal controls on ship pollution and the less-than-stellar industry environmental compliance record offer little to ease concerns.

The cruise industry may also alter the social fabric of small rural communities like Moloka`i. Many small islands and towns in Alaska and the Caribbean are finding their local lifestyle, culture, and economy crowded out by foreign businesses and visitors. This is particularly disconcerting for the Moloka`i community, whose Community Plan calls for “agriculture as the primary economic activity” and tourism expansion “to the extent that it does not infringe upon the traditional, social, economic, and environmental qualities of the island.”

“The cruise industry is planning to expand not only to Moloka`i, but throughout the entire state,” Moriwake said. “Given the industry’s troubled past, we believe that the people of this state deserve a hard look at all the potential costs and benefits. To date, no one has done this analysis. It needs to happen, starting with Moloka`i.”

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