LIHUE — A lawsuit calling for environmental review of seed company operations was dismissed by Judge Randal Valenciano on Thursday.
Syngenta isn’t proposing any new uses for the land they operate on Kauai’s Westside, and with no change in use, Valenciano ruled that the state need not require an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment of their actions.
But Valenciano did rule that the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act does apply to companies like Syngenta when they propose new operations.
“There’s no indication that there’s going to be a change in the use,” Valenciano said on Thursday. “No evidence that the action has changed.”
Defendants Syngenta and the state Board of Land and Natural Resources both said they are encouraged by the decision, and plaintiffs said they plan to appeal.
“The Department of Land and Natural Resources — headed by its Board — is charged to manage, administer, and control the State’s public lands and resources. This is a huge responsibility that the Department and the Board discharge to the very best of their ability,” said BLNR chairperson Suzanne Case.
Paul Minehart, Syngenta’s spokesman, said the company is pleased with the ruling “and believed the permit process was handled appropriately.”
Plaintiffs in the case are the community hui Ke Kauhulu O Mana, the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Surfrider Foundation, Kohola Leo and Kekaha resident Punohu Kekaualua III.
And though plaintiffs are disappointed with the overall ruling, they pointed to a silver lining in Valenciano’s decision regarding HEPA’s application to Syngenta operations.
“This means leases for any new or expanded operations in the future will be required to go through an environmental review process,” said Gary Hooser, president of the HAPA.
The lawsuit stemmed from a February 2017 BLNR decision to consolidate two parcels of land leased by Syngenta under one Revocable Permit.
Plaintiffs alleged that BLNR violated Hawaii laws by failing to require an EA or EIS for the use of the lands, by approving the exemption from environmental document preparation, by relying on an outdated conservation use permit that was issued for a different use, and by violating the duty to protect public trust resources.
Precedence for the case was the recent Supreme Court Umberger decision, that looked at commercial aquarium collection permits, ultimately determining that the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources is subject to the environmental review procedures under HEPA.
Lance Collins, representing the plaintiffs, said he sees a similarity between cases, because aquarium collection activities had been ongoing for decades before the courts ruled environmental review was required.
“This (agribusiness and Syngenta activities) has been going on for two decades,” Collins said. “We believe the judge has erred in his decision and we intend to appeal.”