Community groups file lawsuit against Pflueger

North Shore landowner Jimmy Pflueger and various entities under his control have 20 days to respond to a federal clean-water lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Honolulu.

Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund is representing the Kilauea Neighborhood Center and Limu Coalition in the suit aimed at grading work on coastal lands at Pila’a.

The North Shore community groups are seeking an injunction to halt construction activities on the Pila’a property owned by Pflueger and his partners.

The lawsuit, if successful, would require the immedate installation of adequate erosion control measures to prevent additional adverse environmental impacts from construction runoff, and restore the area to its former condition.

The lawsuit also seeks state and federal fines for polluting the ocean with discharges. The fines range from $25,000 or more for every day the pollution occurred.

Pflueger, Pilaa 400 LLC and Pflueger Properties are all named in the lawsuit. Pilaa 400 LLC is a corporation that includes Pflueger as a partner, and which owns around 400 acres at Pila’a that the corporation partners planned on subdividing into several residential homesites.

A subdivision application before the Kaua’i Planning Commission concerning that property was withdrawn recently.

A civil suit filed by Amy and Rick Marvin, Pila’a neighbors of Pflueger, alleging property damage because of the unpermitted work is pending.

Pflueger is represented on Kaua’i by attorney Max Graham. Graham didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday.

The Garden Island learned Monday that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criminal investigator was on the island last week, and that there is a chance Pflueger will be indicted on federal charges associated with the various un-permitted activities.

Since some of the alleged violations date back prior to 1997, fines the citizen lawsuit is asking be imposed could total millions of dollars, said David Henkin, Earthjustice’s staff attorney in Honolulu.

The suit alleges “serious environmental damage,” and not just to the Pacific Ocean and the reef underneath it, Henkin said. Waiakalua Stream, an unnamed stream and unnamed pond associated with one of the streams are all protected under the federal clean-water act and state water-pollution laws, he said.

Fines could also be imposed for un-permitted construction activities that allegedly caused the un-permitted runoff, pollution, and damage to the reef and ocean at Pila’a.

“The violations of law here are pretty egregious,” and the result has been “serious environmental damage,” said Henkin. “It’s time for the landowner, for the developer, to take responsibility for what they’ve done, and to make it right.”

“It’s about doing what’s right,” he said. “It’s about fixing the environment, and it’s about punishment.”

A court scheduling conference is planned for November, but Henkin hopes the landowner can be made to take mitigative action before the winter rains arrive.

The required 60-day notice of intent to sue under the federal clean-water law is designed to allow a landowner to take mitigative measures, ostensibly in an attempt to keep the lawsuit from being filed.

Pflueger did nothing during that period, Henkin said.

In the lawsuit, Henkin alleges that Pflueger failed to implement erosion and stormwater control measures required under both the federal Clean Water Act and Hawai’i water pollution laws, and the resulting uncontrolled runoff has sent rivers of muck and debris washing into the Pacific, smothering the reef at Pila’a and despoiling a favorite spot for diving, subsistence fishing and gathering of limu, swimming, and other subsistence and recreational activities.

“Until recently, people could go to Pila’a to harvest limu, fish and opihi to feed their families, but no more,” said Linda Pasadava, Kilauea Neighborhood Association board member.

“Because of Jimmy Pflueger’s irresponsible bulldozing, the reef and the traditional lifestyle it supports are under attack,” she said. “As a community, we had to take action to protect this precious jewel from further damage.”

“The environmental devastation at Pila’a didn’t have to happen,” said Henkin. “The law recognizes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it requires developers like Pflueger to take proactive measures to prevent runoff from construction sites before breaking ground.”

“Unfortunately, Pflueger ignored repeated warnings that he needed to address stormwater problems at Pila’a, and the result is a dying reef and muddy water in an area once cherished for its abundant marine resources,” he said.

“While there are other despoilers of the land on Kaua’i, Pflueger’s actions have been so egregious that we had to go to court,” said Limu Coalition president Ray Chuan. “We need people to understand that you cannot ignore the laws protecting our environment without being held to account.”

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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