Lawsuit seeks review of Syngenta operations

LIHUE — A lawsuit filed in environmental court June 13 alleges Syngenta Corporation broke Hawaii law by failing to conduct an environmental review before starting operations on the island.

The state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources is also a defendant in the suit, which was filed by community group Ke Kauhulu o Mana, Surfrider Foundation, Kohola Leo, and the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action.

The groups included DLNR as a defendant because it’s the responsibility of the state to ensure those leasing public lands abide by local regulations, according to a Ke Kauhulu o Mana news release.

“We don’t comment on pending or outstanding litigation,” said DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison.

Syngenta received the complaint and is looking into the matter, said Paul Minehart, Syngenta spokesman.

Syngenta works about 4,000 acres on Oahu and Kauai for inbred and hybrid seed production, and was established in Hawaii in the late 1960s — the lands on Kauai in question are Mana, adjacent to the coast, about three quarters of a mile from Kekaha.

In May, the company announced it was selling its Hawaii operations to Wisconsin-based seed company Hartung Brothers, Inc., with an anticipated closing date by the end of June.

Syngenta won’t be completely out of the picture. Part of the agreement includes Syngenta contracting current Hawaii-based seed production activities from Hartung.

“The environmental and health impacts will remain similar regardless of the named entity conducting day-to-day operations,” the Ke Kauhulu o Mana news release said.

Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 343 requires an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement for any significant action on publically owned, coastal and conservation zoned lands.

The legal action rests on the allegation Syngenta is doing industrial research, not conventional farming, and the law requires the public to be informed if there are any environmental impacts from their operations, according to a news release from Kohola Leo.

“The suit is being filed to ensure that sensitive, coastal and publically-owned lands zoned for conservation are given the legally required environmental review prior to being leased out for private commercial use,” said Lance Collins, public interest attorney representing the plaintiffs.

The application of Restricted Use Pesticides on Syngenta crops is cited as a concern in the complaint, because the use of RUPS may have significant negative impacts on the land, according to Ke Kauhulu o Mana.

The lands themselves are historically Hawaiian crown lands, which are “supposed to be held and protected as part of the public trust,” said Loui Cabebe, Westside resident and representative of Ke Kauhulu o Mana.

“The state of Hawaii, as the present caretaker of these lands, needs to take that responsibility seriously,” Cabebe said.

Gary Hooser, president of H.A.P.A. and former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, said there’s “no question” that the statute applies in the situation because the lands are public crown lands.

“My primary responsibility was administering HRS 343, the law governing environmental impact statements,” Hooser said. “The lands (in question) are public crown lands, zoned conservation and abutting the coast. A full EIS must be conducted.”

Gordon LaBedz, of Kohola Leo, said research on bodies of Pseudorca whales off of Kauai found they were contaminated with “chemicals and toxins.”

“This can only mean that they are eating fish that are contaminated,” LaBedz said. “We want to know what those chemical companies are spraying and whether it gets into the reef.”

Lastly, the complaint cites concerns that lights used for night-time activity impacts endangered species, such as the ‘a’o (Newell’s Shearwater) and the ua’u (Hawaiian Petrel).

DLNR and Syngenta have 20 days from the June 13 filing — or until July 3 — to respond to the complaint. The case will be heard in the environmental court by Judge Randal Valenciano.

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