Earthjustice lawyer threatens to file federal lawsuit against Pflueger

The environmental law firm Earthjustice said Wednesday it plans to file a federal lawsuit against North Shore developer and retired Honolulu auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act at his development at Pila’a south of Kilauea.

By federal law, Pflueger must be given 60 days advance notice of legal action before the lawsuit is filed, according to Honolulu-based Earthjustice attorney David Henkin.

Earthjustice sent Pflueger a letter on behalf of the Limu Coalition and the Kilauea Neighborhood Association contending that Pflueger’s workers filled a stream in Pila’a with tons of gravel and rocks in the summer of 2000 to create an access road to Pila’a Beach, and are continuing to maintain it.

On Aug. 19 Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in Hawai’i state court on behalf of the Limu Coalition and the Kilauea Neighborhood to stop alleged destruction of a coral reef along the coast at Pila’a by Pflueger’s workers in the development of his proposed luxury subdivision.

The two North Shore groups claim Pflueger has failed to implement erosion and storm water control measures required by the federal Clean Water Act and Hawaii’s water pollution laws.

The uncontrolled runoff sent rivers of muck and debris into offshore waters, smothering the reef and “despoiling” a favorite spot for diving, subsistence fishing and gathering of limu, swimming and other subsistence and recreational activities, Earthjustice contends in threatening to file the federal suit.

Last November, heavy rains flooded Pflueger’s new road. It caused a major landslide that dumped mud on the properties of three families. One of the families has filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against Pflueger.

Besides building and maintaining the road in question, Pflueger also installed several culverts and dug a diversion ditch to redirect stream flows away from the road, Earthjustice claims.

Henkin said the federal law “flatly prohibits such activities without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which Pflueger has never sought.”

Pflueger’s failure to secure proper permits and to implement erosion control measures and other management practices has “destroyed a formerly intact native stream ecosystem, leaving a rutted roadway where once spring waters flowed clear and cool into the Pacific,” he said.

Henkin said the law provides for civil penalties of up to $27,500 per day that unpermitted fill material remains in the stream.

In the letter, the groups demanded Pflueger immediately restore the stream to its original condition.

In the alternative, the groups insisted Pflueger obtain and comply with the requirements of a proper permit for the discharge of fill material into the stream, “which would include the implementation of erosion control measures and other management practices.”

“Pflueger’s irresponsible dumping of fill material and stream diversions have left the stream choked with silt and muck, which flushes into the ocean with every heavy rain,” Kilauea Neighborhood Association board member Linda Pasadava said in the release. “We sent this notice letter because we want Pflueger to clean up his mess now.”

Limu Coalition president Ray Chuan said the common element in the existing lawsuit and the pending legal action is “sediment.”

“Pflueger’s careless development at Pila’a – including the construction of an access road through the middle of a stream – is washing into the nearshore waters and onto the reef, smothering fish, limu, shellfish, and other marine resources on which local residents rely for both subsistence and recreation,” Chuan said. “This has to stop.”

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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