Pflueger fine settlement to be announced today

Kaua’i landowner James Pflueger will be required to make additional repairs and pay penalties for violations of the federal Clean Water Act stemming from unpermitted grading work that created massive mudslides in Pila’a on Kaua’i’s North Shore and pollution of Pila’a Bay in November 2001.

The settlement stemmed in whole or partially from a lawsuit attorneys working with members of the Kaua’i-based Limu Coalition and the Kilauea Neighborhood Association brought against Pflueger for violating the federal environmental law.

Federal, state and county officials and environmental group leaders and their legal counsel will outline the details of a “major agreement,” or settlement, during a news conference scheduled at 10 a.m. today outside the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole Federal Building Courthouse at 300 Ala Moana Blvd. on O’ahu.

The full details of the settlement will be available in Friday’s paper.

Expected to attend the news gathering are Wayne Nastri, who heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional headquarters in San Francisco; David Henkin, attorney for Earthjustice; Maka’ala Ka’aumoana of the Limu Coalition; Linda Pasadava of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association; Larry Lau, deputy director of the state Department of Health; Lisa Ginoza, first deputy attorney general, state of Hawai’i; Kaua’i County Council Chairman Kaipo Asing; Kaua’i County Attorney Lani Nakazawa; and Kaua’i County Planning Director Ian Costa.

In a brief interview, Henkin said leaders of Earthjustice, which represented members of the Limu Coalition and the Kilauea Neighborhood Association, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Honolulu in 2003 claiming Pflueger had violated the federal Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit involved stormwater that flowed down from a mountainside during a heavy storm in November 2001, flowed under a home, and covered parts of the beach and parts of the reef in Pila’a Bay.

The silty runoff reportedly killed coral and destroyed marine habitats in parts of the bay, according to scientists who conducted studies for government leaders for their case against Pflueger.

Attorneys for Pflueger, who relied on scientific studies as well, have said the area is subject to continual erosion, which routinely affects the marine habitat in Pila’a Bay.

The Earthjustice lawsuit also involved the filling-in of streams and the building of dams across the streams on Pflueger’s property without proper government permits, Henkin said.

The lawsuit targets the 400 acres in Pila’a Pflueger owns makai of Kuhio Highway.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit also asked that the mud-covered areas be cleaned up and the areas “be put back in such a way so that there would not be further insult to the environment through discharge,” Henkin said.

The lawsuit also asked for the restoration of the damaged streams.

Shortly after the mudslide, Pflueger paid for the initial cleanup of the shoreline and at least one house.

Amy and Rick Marvin, however, claim the work on their home was inadequate, and have filed legal action of their own for compensation for damages done to their home.

In the Earthjustice lawsuit, the plaintiffs are prevented by the Clean Water Act from seeking damages, Henkin said.

Either through his own initiative or by court action, Pflueger has paid out millions for cleanup and restoration work.

Pflueger, who is also a principal in the Pila’a 400 Limited Liability Corporation and Pflueger Properties, agreed to pay out up to $1.2 million to correct damage caused by unpermitted grading within Pflueger’s 1,000-plus-acre estate south of Kilauea, at Pila’a.

The plan was part of a consent decree that came out of a lawsuit Kaua’i County officials filed against Pflueger and his associates in Fifth Circuit Court for damage to shoreline areas that are under the county’s protection and jurisdiction.

A second remediation plan was to have been implemented as part of a final settlement in the county’s lawsuit against Pflueger.

Pflueger also has said he paid out $7 million after the November 2001 landslide to prevent more runoff into Pila’a Bay.

In spite of his actions, criminal charges have been brought against Pflueger.

Last May, Pflueger received no jail time, and three years probation, after he was found guilty of felony charges of knowingly violating federal water-pollution laws.

He was ordered to pay $500,000 for having committed 10 felony environmental crimes.

The fine was the largest in the state’s history for a case involving damage to the environment, and is among the largest criminal fines levied, state officials have said.

Last July, state Board of Land and Natural Resources members ordered Pflueger to pay a $4-million fine for his part in causing damage to Pila’a Bay reef.

Land board members also imposed a $46,500 fine for damages Pflueger’s unpermitted work had done to the reef.

During criminal proceedings against Pflueger in past years, Fifth District Court Judge Trudy Senda also ordered Pflueger to pay a $3,075 fine, and to perform 450 hours of community-service work.

In response to criticism that the unpermitted work is solely to be blamed for massive environmental damage, attorneys for Pflueger have said erosion is a natural phenomenon in Pila’a, and that torrential rains contributed to the mudslide that damaged the underside of the Marvin home and the reef.

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