Spider habitat could cut $1.9 billion from Kaua’i economy

Proposed federal critical habitat designations for thousands of acres of land in Koloa and Po’ipu to protect two endangered cave invertebrates could have substantial adverse economic impact on planned hotel and resort development in both areas, says a draft U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service economic analysis.

Creating the protected havens for the Kaua’i cave wolf spider and Kaua’i cave amphipod also would have significant impact on planned residential development in the area, the report noted.

The designation of five units for the cave invertebrates covering 3,955 acres in undeveloped, mostly flat areas between Koloa and Po’ipu could have an economic impact of between $742 million to $1.9 billion over the next 18 years, according to the report done by Industrial Economics Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. for Fish and Wildlife.

Business people fear the creation of the critical habitats will stunt the expansion of Po’ipu and Koloa, a top visitor destination on Kaua’i, and the development of more business and homes as the population of the area grows.

Most of the land proposed for the protection is privately owned, with only 124 acres owned by the state or county government.

Responding to a 1998 federal court order, Fish and Wildlife in January proposed establishing 99,000 acres of critical habitat for Kaua’i and Ni’ihau. More research has since led to a reduction to about 60,000 acres for endangered plants, according to Barbara Maxfield, a Fish and Wildlife official on O’ahu.

The latest report, which was required by the Endangered Species Act, noted:

– Over the next 18 years, the direct costs for “seven” consultations and project modifications needed to implement the plan could cost from $56.5 million to $62.3 million.

Fish and Wildlife views “direct costs” as those that are tied to consultation with the agency or with securing a federal permit or federal funding for a project.

Many of the costs would be tied to roads, wastewater treatment systems and injections wells.

Private developments located near a natural stream or drainage also would be affected. These developments would be centered around Waikomo Stream and what was a natural drainage near an existing rock quarry in Maha’ulepu owned by Grove Farm.

The designation also would presumably halt quarry operations that supply concrete for Kaua’i’s building industry. Such a stopage could mean cement for making concrete would have to be shipped in from O’ahu, the report said.

The highest direct cost would be associated with losses in revenue from planned hotel, resort and residential development in a part of Maha’ulepu, including plans already approved in the Kaua’i General Plan.

The critical habitat designation would affect the development of a resort or hotel Grove Farm has hoped to build along the Maha’ulepu coast over the last 40 years, although the project not yet been approved.

– The “indirect costs,” which are those connected with lost economic and population growth attributed to curtailed resort and residential development, are higher than direct impacts.

The impacts relate mostly to lost economic and palpation growth connected with the absence of hotel, resort and residential development.

By the year 2020, expenditures and sales would be reduced islandwide by about $98 million per year to $270.9 million.

From 2003-2020, the listing of critical habitats could result in the loss of income of between $546.7 million to $1.5 billion to the visitor industry and construction industry, although variable conditions could change the total.

– The largest potential economic losses are associated with land designated in the Kaua’i County General Plan as resort and urban center, especially land near the ocean in Po’ipu and west of Po’ipu Road, including Kukui’ula.

Expansion of high-density developments in the area isn’t likely to occur if the designations are established.

The areas here hold the promise for a hotel and resort, a low-density, resort and residential development between the Hyatt golf course and Makawehi Bluff and Pu’u Hunihuni, the consultant noted.

– Except for one proposed critical habitat, the other four proposed units contain areas planned for residential development, including homes largely targeted for Kaua’i residents, commercial, industrial and possibly golf course development.

– Some of the proposed habitats also contain areas for crop farming, rock quarry work and roads.

– Most of the land proposed for critical habitat designation is mostly flat, is located in favorable climate, has existing access and is near existing developed areas.

– The designations would provide benefits, including preserving open space along the Maha’ulepu coast and other areas in Koloa and possibly reduce soil and chemical runoff into the ocean that would occur with development.

– Other benefits include less traffic congestion, protection of the environment and the possibility of state funds to expand economic activity in the area.

The Fish and Wildlife noted experts don’t know whether the cave dwellers are found throughout the 4,000 acres proposed for protection.

But “there is high probability” the spider and amphipod “underlie all of the areas planned for development,” the report noted.

Species of wolf spiders are found throughout the world, but it is only in the Hawaiian Islands that they are eyeless, having evolved underground. The amphipod species also is eyeless.

The spider and the amphipod have been found in four to six caves, in spaces and cracks in young lava flows and areas with calcium carbonate deposits.

The cave spider needs the amphipod to survive. The former eats the later and would become extinct if the amphipod ceased to exist, Fish and Wildlife officials said.

An adult amphipod can reach a length of a quarter-inch and has a translucent appearance. The amphipod eats wood debris from the roots of plants found in caves. Without the woody roots, the amphipod would perish, official said.

The spider can reach a leg span of 1.45 inches, has sharp vision and can move quickly to trap their prey, rather than rely on webs as do most spiders.

For the two species, Fish and Wildlife officials noted the agency may exclude areas from a critical habitat designation, but only “if the benefits of excluding them are greater than the benefits of including them, unless the exclusion would result in the extinction of the protected species.”

Margy Parker, executive director of the Poipu Beach Resort Association, noted state and county agencies have done a good job protecting the species and that the critical habitat designations proposed by the Fish and Wildlife are not needed.

“We (my board of directors) don’t believe there is a rationale for another layer of government,” Parker said.

She added that “we would imagine that the issues dealing with the spider (and amphipod) would be addressed on a case by case basis, when applications come in for development.”

Parker said she believed the state Land Use Commission and the Kaua’i County Planning Department would, when reviewing proposals, “at that time concern themselves with the protection of the species.”

Fish and Wildlife officials have said the requirement of the habitats is court-mandated and is a way to protect species and animals that have been identified for protection.

Mike Furukawa is vice-president of Grove Farm, the company that owns land in Maha’ulepu and in Koloa. Furukawa said that while he and other Grove Farm executives have yet to go through the 177-page analysis, “we can’t say at this point whether we agree with it.”

But he noted the establishment of the critical habitats would “severely place restrictions on the use of the land” and that “we have objections to creating the unit(s) because they will significantly impact the value of the land.”

Furukawa also said the “blanketing method” used by Fish and Wildlife “has really very little scientific basis.”

No one can say accurately whether the cave invertebrates are found throughout the 4,000 acres, Furukawa said.

“We want to come up with a justifiable method of determining where they really are, but nobody seems to know how they can be done,” Furukawa said. “In the meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is blanketing the area, and we think that is unfair.”

But if Fish and Wildlife goes through with its plans, Grove Farm would comply “with the units that are created,” Furukawa said.

Grove Farm officials will make their case before the final boundaries are set up, Furukawa said.

Fish and Wildlife will take public comments on the analysis until Dec. 16. Comments can be sent to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Office, 300 Ala Moana Blvd, Room 3-122, Box, 50088, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96850.

The analysis can be seen on www.pacificislands.fws.gov., and copies can be obtained by calling Fish and Wildlife at 1-808-541-3470.

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