U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials attempted Thursday night to allay public fears over a proposal for critical habitat designations for 4,000 acres in Koloa and Po’ipu for two endangered cave invertebrates.
An economic development report from the federal agency released last year stated that the plan could cost the area up to $1.9 billion in commercial and residential growth.
At a meeting held at the Koloa Neighborhood Center, officials said people wanting to develop projects over caves containing the Kaua’i wolf spider and the Kaua’i cave amphipod can do so as long as they have agency permits.
Area residents have voiced concerns about the economic report released by Fish and Wildlife last year that said the proposed critical habitat plan, if implemented , could have an economic impact of $742 million to $1.9 billion on Koloa and Po’ipu over the next 18 years.
Business people fear the designation could stunt growth in the area, which is a prime resort and residential community.
But agency official Paul Henson said at the meeting that the $1.9 billion estimated was a “very, very worst case scenario.”
Henson, field supervisor with the ecological services, and Lorena Wada, an invertebrate program supervisor with Fish and Wildlife, were invited by the Koloa Community Association to give an update on the proposal.
The officials also answered questions at the meeting attended by about 50 residents and association members.
The organization has yet to take a stand on the Fish and Wildlife proposal, but will take any issues the “community wants us to look at,” said board member Louie Abrams and organization president Moana Palama.
Also attending were David Pratt, president and chief operating officer for Grove Farm, Mike Furukawa, vice president with Grove Farm, an d Tom Shigemoto, a top executive with Alexander & Baldwin Inc. Both companies own large tracts of land in the area.
To questions on whether the 4,000 acres on the South Shore earmarked in the critical habitat designation study was too large and could disrupt the Koloa and Po’ipu community, Henson said the recovery of the species could be achieved one day with lands that have identified for their protection and through proper management plans.
The proposal is being refined with more scientific information and public comments and is likely to reflect a smaller acreage, Henson said, adding “exactly how much I can’t say yet.”
The final rule determining the critical habitat designation is to be published by the Fish and Wildlife Service on March 30.
Henson said the designations don’t completely stop development in areas where the cave dwellers are found.
A developer or property owner can proceed with a project and if they come across the species, they should stop the work and consult with Fish and Wildlife, Henson said. The developer or property owner could then apply with the agency for a permit, which allows work to continue but under the scrutiny of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The permits allow otherwise lawful development to proceed where there is an impact to the species, it is permitted and where appropriate and to the appropriate degree, mitigated,” Henson said.
But Henson said “you can’t permit so much” that the work jeopardizes the cave dwellers.
He said it would “be nice” for a property owner or a developer to stop work and consult his agency after discovering caves or finding the species, but they don’t necessarily have to do that or close a cave.
But if property owners developed in areas where they know caves and the invertebrates exist, and have no permit for the work, they could be subjected to criminal and civil action for violation of the federal endangered species act, Henson said.
Property owners finding spiders should approach them in the same way people react when they find ancient bones, Henson said.
“It would be as if you found a cave in which you thought there were bones,” he said. “You are going to just go forward and call the state Historic Preservation Office (of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources). It is the same logic.”
If after a developer calls his agency after discovering the caves on his property and the agency finds no spiders, the developer very likely will be allowed to proceed without a permit, Henson said.
One South Shore man said having to wait between nine and 12 months for a permit that allowed work around the caves was too long.
Henson said the actual time for the granting of the permit could depend on the size of the project.
Most of the land proposed for the protection is privately owned, with only 124 acres owned by the state or county government.
Furukawa said 3,000 of the 4,000 acres proposed for protection is owned by Grove Farm. He said that he wished the acreage would be reduced.
“It is not necessary to have such large acreage,” Furukawa said. “And it (critical habitat designations for 3,000 acres ) would have a dramatic impact on us.”
Before the comment period for the proposal ended last month, Furukawa said his company provided comments to Fish and Wildlife on the acreage it would like to see set aside for protection.
“They said it would be willing to reduce the acreage, but it remains to be seen,” Furukawa said.
In the development of the plan for the protective zones, the Fish and Wildlife Service secured scientific data from various sources, including archeological sources, to try to determine the population of the spiders, Henson and Wada said.
“We don’t have great data, but we know the spider is rare and is vulnerable to extinction,” Henson said.
Only 60 spiders have been found, but their numbers are likely to remain small because their metabolism and reproductive abilities is slow, Henson and Wada said.
“We can say we have a baseline inventory of all areas where the spiders were ten years ago and now we know that is less than that,” Henson said. “The species is really rare. We know there aren’t billions of them, because they are in a very limited area.”
Wada also said that their numbers are very likely small because of development in Koloa over the years and because more caves have probably collapsed.
But putting a finger on the number of spiders living in the caves is difficult, the officials said. They live in the “nooks and crannies” underground and probably not in caves that are accessible by humans, Henson said.
The species, which have been found only in Koloa, were discovered in the 1970s and were subsequently identified for federal protection.
But they could be “delisted” if their recovery, through the critical habitat designations, is successful, Henson said.
The designations don’t affect activities on state or private lands unless a federal permit, license or funding is involved.
The Fish and Wildlife Service was required to set up the critical habitats as result of a successful lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity following the listing of the cave dwellers for protection by the Fish and Wildlife Service, as required by an interpretation of the federal endangered species act that resulted from the suit.
The economic analysis on the impact of the habitats on Koloa and Po’ipu is expected to be revised soon, Henson said.
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:email@example.com