North Shore landowner Jimmy Pflueger has come under public attack since last November when runoff from his residential project in Pila’a south of Kilauea flowed down a hillside around a coastline home and into the ocean.
Pflueger has been characterized as a villain, lumped in with developers, publicly chastised for allegedly ruining Kaua’i’s rural lifestyle with commercial or residential projects.
But Pflueger is neither a villain nor a developer, say two of his top employees, both brothers, on Kaua’i and O’ahu, and a caretaker on the Pflueger property at Pila’a.
Emphasizing they could no longer tolerate the public bashing Pflueger has received at county meetings, they said they wanted to “go public” in defense of Pflueger.
In an interview at the 383-acre property in Pila’a, Gordon Rosa, a property manager on Kaua’i, and Marshall Rosa, a contractor on O’ahu, and Joe O’ Hagen said they wanted to respond to the November incident, grubbing issues and Pflueger’s future plans for the property.
The land is owned by Pila’a 400, LLC., formerly Pflueger Properties, a hui in which Pflueger is a partner.
“Everybody is saying things for Mr. Pflueger, and they don’t have the facts,” Marshall Rosa said. “Plain and simple. He is not the bad guy people make him out to be.”
Pflueger’s problems began last November when heavy rains eroded a hillside and road above three kuleana homes, two owned by the Marvin family, and one owned but rented out by the Huddy family.
Torrential rain and work on the road created a landslide that dumped mud and water around the Marvin home and went into parts of Pila’a Bay. Runoff apparently affected the Huddy home, say the renters, but the Rosas say they aren’t aware of any damage to the third home.
The work has stopped, and the federal, state and county government have stepped in to investigate the complaints. At Kaua’i County Council meetings, critics have demanded the county take civil and criminal action against Pflueger.
None, if any, spoke on behalf of Pflueger because “he requested that everybody (connected with Pflueger’s operations) just stand back for now,” Gordon Rosa said.
This month, Pflueger reached an agreement with the government to implement a major “remediation plan” to prevent discharge into the ocean.
The work involves restoration of a main road to the homes, building of a temporary 12-foot rock wall by the shoreline, creation of swales and debris collection systems to prevent runoff from reaching the homes, revegetation and use of silt fences. The work has been contracted out to Goodfellow Brothers Inc.
At a meeting this month, Amy Marvin thanked council chair Ron Kouchi and councilmembers Gary Hooser and Kaipo Asing for aggressively pursuing solutions.
But Ray Chuan, a candidate for the Kaua’i County Council who has joined a platoon of critics of Pflueger, said Pflueger, mindful of government investigations and pending private and government lawsuits, only agreed to the plan out of “self-preservation.”
The Rosa brothers say the plan is a gesture of Pflueger’s “good will” and his intentions to correct a problem.
A key part of the remediation work involves the closing of a dirt road created in 2000 to accommodate Bill Huddy, a retired Kaua’i County policeman, and his family, Gordon Rosa said.
For 15 years or so, Huddy, for lack of access, parked his car above his house and walked home, Rosa said.
In place of using the small road, construction crews are now rebuilding a major road above the homes that had been used previously.
Rosa said the road created two years ago has a lower grade, is shorter and is safer to use.
The creation of the shorter road, however, is the subject of a pending lawsuit by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm.
Earthjustice recently announced its intentions to file a lawsuit against Pflueger for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act at his development.
Earthjustice contends Pflueger’s workers covered a stream bed above Pila’a Bay to make the new road, which is part of the remediation work.
Earthjustice also filed a separate lawsuit in August in Hawai’i state court, alleging violation of another provision of the federal Clean Water Act.
Representing the Limu Coalition and the Kilauea Neighborhood, Earthjustice alleged destruction of a coral reef by the runoff.
The pending lawsuit related to the covering up of a stream bed to make way for a road has no merit, Marshall Rosa said.
Only a small portion of the stream bed, which is fed by underground springs and is not always full of water, was covered by the road, the Rosas contended.
“Show me the tons and tons of rock that is on that river,” Marshall Rosa said.
To prevent runoff from going down the larger road, five swales with collection areas for mud will be built around the beginning of the road located on a bluff above the Marvin home, Gordon Rosa said.
Pflueger had the larger road closed two years ago because he partly wanted to have the bluff area relandscaped, Rosa said.
While all the work will make the area less vulnerable to damage from runoff, the Rosas question the need for the temporary rockwall.
“No runoff to my knowledge has gone down this way,” Marshall Rosa said. “If they are going to require us to build a wall in this gully, why not do it for all the gullies on the island? This is an unnecessary cost.”
Rosa said “the plan has been approved by the government agencies so we just shut our mouths. They are the guys who give you the permit. You do what they say.”
A spokesman for the Kaua’i County Public Works Department said the wall is intended to stop runoff from going into the ocean.
Marshall Rosa said the mauka area around the homes has been subject to flooding for many years.
It was the case when the Pflueger family acquired the land years ago, leased it to Kilauea Plantation for a time up until the 1970, and used it for cattle grazing or farming, he said.
On the day the runoff rolled down onto the Marvin property and elsewhere, the bluff above the home was saturated with water from a downpour, Gordon Rosa said. About two weeks later, the area was hit again by heavy rain, he said.
Following the downpour that sent mud down around the Marvin home, a cleanup, approved by Pflueger, got underway immediately, Gordon Rosa said. The work was done in two weeks and involved 30 workers.
“Water didn’t get into the house itself,” but went under the house by a foot or two before the runoff was removed, Gordon Rosa said.
But the damage was more severe than that, contends Amy Marvin. The runoff went through the shuttered windows of two rooms and under the house, she said.
Mold has caused the wooden floor to become rotten and is finding its way up the sidings of the home, opening the way for widespread rotting of the structure, Marvin contended.
The runoff rolled down the hillside above the Marvin home, down a main road and an area above the smaller road before going into the ocean, Marvin said.
Only minor portions of the reef were covered by the runoff, Gordon Rosa said, adding the “fish is still running there, and “the limu never got touched.”
At a cost of “$20,000 easy,” the Marvin home was cleaned and the family was put up in alternate housing until February or March, Rosa said.
Amy Marvin said Pflueger signed a $10,000 check over to her and family of six, including her husband, Rick, that paid for alternate housing from Nov. 27 to Jan. 2.
Amy Marvin said Pflueger initially wanted to put the family in housing that was not acceptable to the family.
Eventually, the Marvins found alternate housing in a vacation rental at Princeville on Jan. 2. The holiday season bumped up the cost of the housing and made alternate housing hard to find, she said.
Marvin said her family lived in another rental at Princeville from Jan. 2 to Jan. 19, when they returned to their home by Pila’a Bay. She said the November incident traumatized her family, creating constant anxiety due to relocation, and having to run the family business, Bluewater Sailing Kauai, out of temporary housing.
Marvin said she and her husband also had to repair parts of the house even after the initial cleanup of their home. During that time, she and her husband also met with attorneys and insurance representatives to discuss damage compensation, lawsuits and possible settlements, she said.
“We have been good friends, but he hasn’t taken care of us,” she said of the Marvin’s relationship with Pflueger. “We are still willing to settle out of court, we wish him no ill will.”
The Marvin family has filed damage lawsuit seeking about $1.3 million in damages.
Marvin said she also asked for Pflueger to cover the cost of a new car for a family car that had been severely damaged by the runoff, but was denied.
The runoff to the Marvin property occurred in areas for which county permitting was required, but was not obtained, Rosa acknowledged.
A representative for Pflueger had intended to get the permit, but never did, Rosa said. Rosa said securing the grubbing permits was not necessarily a priority for Pflueger because the county’s permit process “is slow.”
“We had a driveway for his house in Kilauea (set on 30-35 acres) and it took a year to get a permit. What is with that?” Marshall Rosa said.
Gordon Rosa said the county’s permit system should be upgraded to assist land owners develop their properties in a timely manner. “When you apply for a permit, you should have a limited time, 90 days we give you one, yes or no,” said Rosa, referring to the government permit process.
A county public works official said the review process for a grubbing plan developed by a professional engineer could take between three to four months, at the end of which a permit could be issued.
If there are concerns, including erosion control plans and issues related to storm water, the issuance of the permit could take longer, the official said.
Clearing Pflueger’s 383-acre property would take longer because of its size, the official said.
After taking office, Mayor Maryanne Kusaka pledged to have the permit process streamlined.
That has happened, according to a county public works official, as the number of people for that task has increased from one, after Hurricane ‘Iniki struck in 1992, when there was a glut of permit requests, to three people for the work, the official said.
The government development process makes it difficult for any developer to improve their land, Gordon Rosa contended.
“And you are going to have a thousand people tell you what you cannot do before you even start doing it,” Rosa said.
As for the 383-acre property, representatives of Pila’a 400, L.L.C., recently withdrew an application to subdivide the land into 19-lot residential subdivision.
A county official said the filing for such work would suggest strongly that “he (Pflueger) plans to subdivide).”
But the request for tentative and final subdivision approval was part of an effort not to “carve up the land and to sell it,” but to landscape it only, Gordon Rosa contended.
“His (Pflueger’s) plan was just to improve this, make it pretty,” Rosa said. “He wasn’t going to sell the place. He wasn’t going to develop the place. He doesn’t see a golf course here. But in order to clean and do anything over here, you have to go through the county process.”
The fact that the land is mostly cleared and that no infrastructure has been installed when “we have the knowledge the equipment and men,” to do so indicates Pflueger’s desire to keep the land undeveloped, Gordon Rosa said.
“He is not a developer. He is a yardman,” he said. “He loves to see the land, its (natural) beauty.”
O’ Hagen, a caretaker on the property for some 30 years, said he wouldn’t have stayed around as long as he has if the land had been planned for development.
Rosa said Pflueger has built one botanical garden, and wants to build another for the benefit of his family and the family of his workers.
The botanical gardens, which would be fed with water by underground springs, would be filled with native and non-native plants. Ponds and a waterfall also are found on the property.
Gordon Rosa said as far as he knows, Pflueger has no current plans to sell the property, and a staffer with the Kaua’i County Planning Department said he has not seen another development proposal from Pflueger since his withdrawal of an earlier proposal to develop the property.Pflueger wants to leave the land to his family undeveloped when he passes on, Rosa said. Pflueger owns about 1,000 acres, and his family’s estate owns another 1,000 acres, both of which are located in Pila’a, Rosa said.
“People think just because he has money he can develop all of the north shore. He has only enough money for this place here, his place,” Rosa said. “He is a quiet man, a good man.”
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:email@example.com