Save Koloa and Friends of Maha’ulepu File Legal Challenge to Stop Destruction of Endangered Species Habitat and Native Hawaiian Cultural Sites - and Uphold Hawai’i State Law on Environmental Protections

·6 min read

- Suit for Violating Regulations Focused on Endangered Species and Culturally Significant Land Names County of Kaua’i, Meridian Pacific Companies and Associates

KŌLOA, Hawaii, May 18, 2022--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today, Save Koloa, (a project of E Ola Kakou Hawai’i), and Friends of Maha’ulepu, 501(c)(3) non-profits, announced the filing of a lawsuit to ensure the preservation of habitat for endangered species that exist only on the South Shore of Kaua’i, and for the protection of archeologically and culturally significant land.

The sensitive area in Poipu/Koloa, is being proposed for 282 tourist condominiums by a California-based developer, Meridian Pacific. It is adjacent to critical habitat for multiple endangered species and to the historic Hapa Trail. It is also recognized as a site for Native Hawaiian burials of iwi kupuna (ancestors’ bones). Case number 5CCV-22-0000036 ‘Save Koloa v County of Kauai’ is within the fifth circuit court. Save Koloa and Friends of Maha’ulepu are initially seeking injunctive relief.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has identified the area as likely to be habitat for at least two endangered species. A USFWS letter to the County highlights, "Information in our files indicate the Endangered Kaua’i Cave Wolf Spider (Adelocosa anops) and the Endangered Kaua’i Cave Amphipod (Spelaeorchestia koloana) are in the vicinity of this parcel TMK (4) 2-8-14:32. It is probable that these species are still present on the property in caves, voids and passages inaccessible by humans." These species are protected by the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.) as well as under Hawaiian law and exist only in Koloa, no place else in the world.

The complaint alleges that the permits erroneously issued by the County of Kaua’i, to grub and grade the parcel of roughly 25 acres of land, violates Chapter 205 and 6E in the Hawai’i Revised Statutes (HRS), and Article XI Section 9 of the Hawai’i Constitution.

The suit, filed in State court by attorney Peter Morimoto, names defendants, including the County of Kaua’i, various corporations related to Meridian Pacific Ltd., and other subcontractors.

"The loss of these endangered species, unique to Kaua’i, parallels the loss of our endangered lifestyle, also unique to Kaua’i."

Morimoto previously served as a deputy county attorney for the County of Kaua’i.

The system of underground passages on the proposed condo site is recognized as one of the 10 most endangered cave ecosystems in the world (Tongvig and Mylroie, in litt. 1998; Belson 1999). Plaintiffs witnessed heavy equipment on the property, including earth movers. There has been no incidental take license granted under the Endangered Species Act or Hawai’i State section 195-D although the disturbance is likely to damage this ecosystem.

The lawsuit focuses on the violation of Article XI Section 9 of the Hawai’i Constitution, which states: "Each person has the right to a clean and healthful environment, as defined by laws relating to environmental quality, including control of pollution and conservation, protection and enhancement of natural resources. Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, through appropriate legal proceedings, subject to reasonable limitations and regulation as provided by law."

Defendants’ acts and omissions also threaten other species known to inhabit the proposed condo site, including but not limited to, the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat, the endangered Hawaiian petrel and threatened ʻaʻo or Newell’s shearwater (Hawaiian seabirds).

"We are a community group aiming to preserve Kaua’i, especially Koloa, the oldest town on Kaua’i," said Elizabeth Okinaka, SaveKoloa founder. "We have seen activity on site - including drilling and grading - threatening the rare lava tube and cave system. If these caves are collapsed, the endangered species could become extinct. And there is no coming back from extinct. Importantly, the land is also recognized as a cultural site for Native Hawaiians, whose iwi kupuna (ancestors’ bones) are buried there. We have been chronicling the deficiencies of the proposed project since late 2020 and are hopeful now that our concerns will be heard."

In 2021, the USFWS listed 23 total species as having become extinct in the United States, 9 of these, more than any other state, were from Hawai’i, 7 on Kaua’i.

"Friends of Maha’ulepu is a group of citizens (local and beyond) who are working to keep the island’s natural resources intact for generations," said Bridget Hammerquist, retired attorney and founder of Friends of Maha’ulepu. "This lawsuit makes it clear that citizens have the right to all protections detailed in Article XI, Section 9, especially those focused on the conservation, protection and enhancement of natural resources. We want to shine a light on the conflicts of interest that arise when monied developers and local government departments become too cozy."

Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction, a voiding of all previously granted permits and the commitment of the County to not grant any additional permits for this development unless and until all conditions including a traffic study, drainage study, full biological and archeological surveys and the required Ka Pa’akai cultural analysis (including reaching out to community members), have been completed. The shared objective is to preserve this significant land for the generations to come.

Complaint on SaveKoloa website: www.savekoloa.com Facebook: ‘SaveKoloa’

About Save Koloa: Save Koloa, and non-profit E Ola Kakou Hawai’i, a 501(c)(3), are committed to preserving the unique environment of Kaua’i and to supporting and maintaining access to the island’s culturally significant areas. www.savekoloa.com and www.eolakakouhawaii.com

About Friends of Maha’ulepu: Friends of Maha’ulepu is comprised of a group of concerned citizens who are contributing their time and talents to protect the natural beauty of Kaua’i. The group is founded and spearheaded by Bridget Hammerquist, a former attorney and RN who has resided on Kaua’i for many decades and is a key member of the island.www.friendsofmahaulepu.org

About Hapa Trail: The historic Hapa Trail is a path that bisected the original Koloa Field System (Hawaiian ag lands operated 1350-1850). Bordered by lava rock walls it signifies Hawaiian habitation from ca 1200 AD.

Legal and Other Support

Save Koloa and Friends of Maha’ulepu are grateful for all the support offered by communities near and far.

In addition to receiving significant assistance from Peter Morimoto, Save Koloa and Friends of Maha’ulepu are also receiving assistance from leading environmental law firms Soluri Meserve; Chatten-Brown, Carstens and Minteer; and the Sierra Club Kaua’i Group, Hawaii Chapter.

View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220518005539/en/

Contacts

Save Koloa
(808) 720-1091
Lahui@savekoloa.com

Friends of Maha’ulepu
(808) 742-1037
Bridgethammerquist@hawaiiantel.net

Peter Morimoto
(808) 482-1451
Pmmorimoto@gmail.com

Osha Meserve
(916) 425-9914
Osha@semlawyers.com

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