Hawai’i’s Supreme Court has issued a ruling requiring the owner of the Turtle Bay Resort on O’ahu’s famous North Shore to update a 25 year old environmental impact statement (EIS) before proceeding with its massive resort expansion plans. Keep the North Shore Country, the Sierra Club, Hawai’i Chapter, and Earthjustice praised the decision overturning a 2-1 ruling by the State Intermediate Court of Appeals.
Keep the North Shore Country and Sierra Club, Hawai`i Chapter had challenged the 25 year old EIS because the analysis of impacts were so out of date, given the significant changes in the surrounding environment and community over a generation. The resort owner, Kuilima Resort Company, is seeking approval for five new hotels and 1000 luxury condos, which would forever alter the North Shore’s rural community.
“This is a victory for common sense,” said Robert D. Harris, Director of the Sierra Club, Hawai`i Chapter. “The purpose of an EIS is to ensure decision makers have reliable information about the human and environmental impacts of a proposed project,” he continued. “Smart decisions are not based upon obsolete and wrong information.”
The lower court ruling that the Supreme Court overruled concluded that no supplemental EIS would ever be required unless the “project itself” changed. The Supreme Court rejected this blanket rule and held that since “(1) over twenty years have passed since the approval of the 1985 EIS; (2) the evidence demonstrates that environmental impacts were examined only through 2000; and (3) the project is not yet completed,” the project was an “essentially different action” and the original EIS was no longer valid.
“Good decisions require good information,” said Gil Riviere, President of Keep the North Shore Country. “Much has changed in the last two decades, most notably the rapid growth in traffic congestion along the narrow, two-lane Kamehameha Highway, the only regional roadway on the North Shore,” said Riviere.
“If the law means anything, it’s that we can’t make decisions today based on an environmental analysis done an entire generation ago. The Supreme Court recognized that ‘any other result would be both absurd and contrary to public policy in Hawai’i,'” said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney for Earthjustice who filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of six state and national community organizations supporting the call for a new environmental analysis.
The six groups, Conservation Council for Hawai’i, Surfrider Foundation, Hawai’i’s Thousand Friends, Life of the Land, Maui Tomorrow Foundation, and KAHEA: The Hawai’i Environmental Alliance, all felt obliged to get involved because of the importance of this case and the precedent it sets.
“Kuilima Resort Company’s reliance on its outdated EIS undermined community involvement,” said Laura Moritz, an attorney representing Keep the North Shore Country and Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter. “As the Supreme Court determined, our laws are designed to ensure communities are involved in decisions affecting their future,” she continued. “The North Shore community, including a whole new generation of residents that now live in this area, deserve to have their voices heard.”
“The expansion plan is extremely unpopular due to concerns of over-development of the rural area, traffic gridlock, new environmental concerns such as endangered monk seals pupping on the resort property, and the likelihood of disturbing ancient Hawaiian burials,” said Riviere. “Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, these concerns can now be addressed.”
Read the decision (PDF)