Today, Kaua’i community groups the Limu Coalition and Kilauea Neighborhood Association (KNA), represented by Earthjustice, lodged in federal court a settlement of their Clean Water Act lawsuit against Kaua’i developer and retired O’ahu auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger for illegal discharges of polluted runoff and fill material that severely damaged a formerly pristine reef and three streams in the ahupua’a of Pila’a on the north shore of Kaua’i. If approved by the court, the settlement would require Pflueger to carry out over $5.5 million of remediation and environmental restoration work, pay $2 million in penalties, and fund $335,000 in off-site environmental projects. A 30-day public comment period on the settlement, which was joined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and State of Hawai’i Department of Health (DOH), will be announced soon.
“This settlement is a wake-up call to developers on Kaua’i and throughout the state that you cannot destroy our precious freshwater and marine resources and get away with it,” said Maka’ala Ka’aumoana, spokesperson for the Limu Coalition. “It is high time people learn it is far cheaper to do things right and comply with the law from the outset than to adopt Pflueger’s attitude that the rules don’t apply.”
In addition to the nearly $8 million in fines and environmental projects required to settle his Clean Water Act violations, Pflueger has paid $500,000 in fines and pled guilty to ten criminal violations of Hawai’i’s water pollution laws for illegal grading activities that triggered a mudslide in November 2001, blanketing Pila’a’s white sand beach and coral reef in muck. The Hawai’i Board of Land and Natural Resources has fined Pflueger over $4 million for damage to the beach, reef, and marine environment at Pila’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 Pila’a.
“The Kilauea community is grateful for the assistance of the EPA, Department of Health, and Kaua’i County in reaching a settlement that can start the healing process for both the community and the ‘aina,” said Kilauea Neighborhood Association President Linda Pasadava. “We will remain vigilant to protect our island from future abuses.”
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 Pila’a’s streams and ocean, but will also help restore native ecosystem function. The remedial work the settlement requires will use 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.
“This innovative settlement not only sends a strong message that violating water protection laws will not be tolerated, but also gives the land, streams and reef at Pila’a a chance to recover,” explained Earthjustice attorney David Henkin.
The settlement requires Pflueger to:
- Pay $2 million in penalties to EPA and DOH;
- Fund a $200,000 project to protect water quality in neighboring Kalihiwai Bay by replacing aging cesspools with modern septic systems;
- Contribute $135,000 toward purchase of a mobile water quality laboratory for the Kaua’i community; and
- Implement erosion control measures, carry out native stream and shoreline ecosystem restoration, and remove a berm along Kühio Highway that has blocked the public’s view of the ocean (work valued at nearly $5.6 million).