Land Board to consider hefty fines for Pila‘a violations

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is recommending up to $5.9 million in fines against North Shore landowner James Pflueger for unpermitted grading that resulted in severe reef damage in Pila‘a Bay in November 2001.

DLNR staffers are asking the Land Board to use the fines paid by Pflueger for the recovery of the reef.

However, Pflueger would also be given the option of conducting an approved marine and coral reef remediation and restoration program at Pila‘a in lieu of paying the fines.

The unpermitted work on Pflueger’s property in Kilauea allegedly sent tons of sediment and mud onto a reef area immediately fronting the beach, killing some coral.

Stormwaters from Pflueger’s property in Kilauea also flooded a new road that led to homes of Amy Marvin and others by the bay, causing some damage around the properties.

The environmental damage is included in a report that will be reviewed by the Land Board when it is scheduled to meet at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall at 9 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 22.

The Land Board can impose the fines because some of the damage occurred on state lands.

DLNR staffers noted in their report that:

  • The damage to Pila‘a Bay was severe and affected about 5,830 square meters of the reef. The degradation stemmed from “abnormally high levels of sediments” that entered the bay due to unauthorized grading on Pflueger’s property overlooking the bay.
  • Pflueger broke state laws, damaged state land and natural resources stemming from unauthorized land uses and should pay a penalty of $5,830,000.
  • Pflueger should be fined $38,500 for administrative costs to process the violations against him and that fine should be paid within 60 days after action by the Land Board.
  • Pflueger broke state laws and should be fined $12,000 for failing to obtain government approvals for the construction of a road, grading, filling and storm drain construction in six instances within state conservation lands.

Fines recommended in the report total $5,880,500.

The report goes on to say that in lieu of paying the fines , Pflueger, at his expense and subject to DLNR approval, can restore parts of the reef and must monitor the progress for a minimum of ten years. The $38,500 fine to cover administrative costs would still have to be paid within 60 days of the Land Board’s action.

If this option is taken, Pflueger also would be required to post a bond to ensure any repair or restoration work.

The report notes that upon approval of remediation, restoration and mitigation plans by the Land Board, Pflueger shall, at his expense, implement the approved plans within a year.

Monitoring the work would go on for not less than ten years and Pflueger would also have to provide yearly progress reports to the DLNR.

DLNR officials also may require modifications to any remediation work if the agency determines the work is not timely or effective, the report noted.

If Pflueger failed to comply with any of these conditions, he would be fined an additional $2,000 a day until any conditions connected with the remediation work is complied with, the report noted. The state attorney general’s office would also step in if Pflueger failed to comply with remediation or repair work conditions, the report concluded.

Kaua‘i attorney Max Graham, who has represented Pflueger previously, was not immediately available for comment.

The report also noted DLNR staffers conducted a detailed ecological assessment of the coral reef, and calculated the area of damage was 5,830 square meters.

A comprehensive survey done by Dr. Paul Jokiel of the Hawaii Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (CRAMP) showed the severe damage was the result of “massive sedimentation events caused by the abutting landowner (Pflueger),” the DLNR report said.

CRAMP was established in 1998 and its aim is to conduct research directed at understanding the natural and anthropogenic factors that control reefs.

Program representatives said they have worked with DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission and the Natural Area Reserve System, described as protectors of reef sources in Hawai‘i.

In addition to penalties DLNR staffers have recommended, Pflueger faces lawsuits by the Limu Coalition for alleged violation of federal environmental laws and a civil lawsuit by Amy Marvin and her family for damages by the mudslide.

The unpermitted work on Pflueger’s’ property and the subsequent damage have sparked investigations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies and Kaua‘i County agencies.

In connection with violating the county’s grading and grubbing ordinance, Pflueger this year pleaded no contest for unpermitted work on his properties in Kilauea in 2001 and 2002. Pflueger was fined $3,075 and was required to serve 450 hours of community service.

Pflueger has already spent several million for a remediation plan to clean up the land around the Marvin home and other homes in Pila‘a Bay.

Pflueger also has made a new road to the beach, solidified coastal areas and has taken steps to prevent sediment from reaching the reef, including the construction of a large concrete wall along the coastline of the bay.

Staff Writer Lester Chang can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 225).


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