WAILUA — Koloa ducks and moorhens have waddled into the spotlight in the saga surrounding the development of Coco Palms, the historic hotel destroyed in the 1992 Hurricane Iniki.
While developers with Coco Palms Hui, LLC maintain they have no knowledge of endangered species on the property, the Environmental Protection Agency is responding to reports of the endangered ducks living on the premises.
“EPA has received the emailed letter and is currently reviewing it, and working to identify the specific location of the site,” said Dean Higuchi, press officer with EPA.
The letter in question was sent to EPA on Monday by biologist and researcher Terry Lilley, who claims he has GPS documentation of the presence of a colony of endangered bird species “on or near the proposed rebuilding site of the Coco Palms Hotel.”
“We are not aware of any endangered species residing on the Coco Palms property,” said Chad Waters in a statement from Coco Palms Hui to TGI. “If they are encountered, all interactions will be guided by the regulations set forth in the Endangered Species Act.”
Lilley says there are a variety of activities that could affect those species, if they are found to be on the property.
“Large equipment, vehicles, workers, police, security guards and other people involved in large-scale action or groundbreaking operations has the likelihood of harassing the endangered Koloa ducks and moorhens present, or near the project site,” Lilley wrote in the letter to the EPA.
He also sent the letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Army Crop of Engineers, and County of Kauai.
Though the County does not administer or enforce the ESA, the County attorney’s office cited a Sept. 27, 2016 Kauai Planning Commission meeting, when the Planning Department included three permit conditions in the Coco Palms development. Two of those conditions were focused on Newell’s shearwater impact mitigation, and the third was aimed at reducing impacts to the Hawaiian waterbirds.
Both moorhens and Koloa ducks were listed as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in 1967. The Newell’s shearwater was listed as an threatened species by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1975.
Lilley says a complete Environmental Impact Statement is required for developers to move forward with the project, and cites the $100,000 fine and potential jail time for violating the ESA.
Because farmers are exempt from the ESA law under the Safe Harbor Act as long as they work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the species, Lilley is not concerned about the activities of the people who were living on the property claiming ownership.
“If the (taro) farmers are on the Coco Palms property in the presence of Koloa ducks, they are just fine,” Lilley said. “Other folks entering the property cannot disturb the Koloa ducks or moorhens in any way.”
Waters, however, says this is just another angle in ongoing efforts to destroy the development.
“It is blatantly apparent that Mr. Lilley is motivated by his opposition to the rebuild of the Coco Palms Resort and using whatever methods available to create hardships for the project, whether factually accurate or not,” Waters said in the Coco Palms Hui statement.
He continued: “Mr. Lilley is connected to and supported by the same group that trespassed and squatted on the property leaving massive amounts of rubbish and abandoned vehicles. This action is clearly in retaliation for the recent ejectment proceedings. This group is also behind the $200,000,000 Notice to Quit or Pay Rent and the filing of the arrest warrant against Judge Soong from the fictitious court, The Hawaiian Judiciary Court of the Sovereign.”
For a year, people claiming Native Hawaiian ties and rights to the land upon which Coco Palms Hotel sits have been living on the land. After a lengthy court battle, the occupiers were removed by law enforcement on Feb. 23, with one arrest.
The Notice to Quit or Pay Rent was filed by the group’s leaders Noa Mau-Espirito and Kamu Charles Hepa on March 8. The next day, County attorney Mauna Kea Trask weighed in on the Notice to Quit in The Garden Island newspaper.
In the March 9 article, Trask pointed out the Court of the Sovereign is nonexistent.
“The county does not recognize ‘The Hawaiian Judiciary Court of the Sovereign’ as a lawful court with any jurisdiction whatsoever,” Trask said in a letter sent to Mau-Espirito and Hepa.
Minority groups are attempting to advance their personal agendas using the Coco Palms Resort as a target, Waters said in his statement to TGI, but the Coco Palms Hui is remaining “steadfast in our promises and commitments to the community of Kauai.”
Lilley says his goal is to protect the endangered species, and cites state and federal studies that show the area will be a wetland in coming years because of sea level rise.
“Under U.S. law it is illegal to build in a marsh, an emerging marsh, or wetland habitat for endangered birds,” he said. “This new wetland is extremely important for the future survival of the critically endangered Koloa duck that is now living and nesting on or near the proposed development site.”