State officials say they protect birds at airports, harbors

LIHUE — Protecting sensitive species is a priority for the state’s Department of Transportation, according to a response issued Friday to a June 15 Earthjustice notice of intent to sue.

“While HDOT cannot comment on the specific allegations given to threatened litigation, HDOT has and will continue to operate its facilities in manners which are protective of all sensitive species and are consistent with legal requirements,” the release from HDOT spokesman Tim Sakahara said.

Lights at airports and other HDOT facilities on Kauai, Maui and Lanai are the crux of the issue.

The environmental law firm Earthjustice alleges the lights are causing injuries and death to three species of endangered birds, especially during the September through December fledging season when young birds are at risk of “fallout.”

Earthjustice is informing of the intent to sue on behalf of Hui Ho‘omalu I Ka‘aina, Conservation Council for Hawaii, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

That notice allows HDOT 60 days to secure an incidental take permit and to implement a habitat conservation plan that will minimize the death and injury of Newell’s shearwater, Hawaiian petrel and band-rumped storm petrel birds.

If that doesn’t happen, Earthjustice’s next step will be to file an federal Endangered Species Act violation complaint because Section 9 of the ESA prohibits the take of any listed species nationwide without the proper permit.

Earthjustice attorney David Henkin is representing the groups as they move forward with the intent to sue, seeking to persuade DOT to “comply with its obligations” under the ESA.

“Time is running out for these rare and culturally important seabirds,” Henkin said. “If the Hawaii Department of Transportation continues to shirk its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, we’ll see them in court.”

HDOT facilities are the gateway for 80 percent of all goods consumed in the state, according to the department, and more than 98 percent of those goods are being shipped through Hawaii’s commercial harbors. The airport system services more than 34 million passengers annually.

As a trustee of the state’s environmental resources and as required by law, HDOT always works to ensure that these facilities are operated in ways that are protective of Hawaii’s sensitive resources, including threatened and endangered species, Sakahara said in the release.

HDOT has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to install energy-efficient lighting improvements at all the state airports and commercial harbors to avoid harming the birds, and has spent millions translocating the endangered nene from runways, Sakahara said.

“HDOT also continues to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies to ensure that operation of the facilities minimize environmental impacts and are consistent with state and federal laws,” Sakahara said.

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