LIHUE -- Retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger has chopped a controversial 15-foot-high earth berm he built along Kuhio Highway on Kauai's north shore down to five feet.
Kauai berm lowered,
but still controversial
By Anthony Sommer
"I was off-island when it was built. It was never intended to be more than 5 feet," Pflueger said about the mile-long berm. He is clearing and subdividing more than 400 acres of land his family has owned since 1871 and the berm was built to wall off the land from the highway.
But Pflueger shortening the berm may not be the end of the story.
"It partly absolves him, but it doesn't remove any of the blame from the county," said Ray Chuan, head of the Limu Coalition, one of the berm's major critics. The Limu Coalition and the Kilauea Neighborhood Association both have criticized the county for failing to stop construction of the berm, at least until a county grading permit was issued.
Pflueger began building the berm in February. The county engineer had not yet given him a grading permit and did nothing to stop the earth-moving equipment, which took several weeks to move the tens of thousands of cubic feet of red dirt.
Two months after the fact, Pflueger was issued a permit for a 5-foot berm.
The berm was designed by civil engineer Yolanda Portugal-Cabral. Her father, Cesar Portugal, is the county engineer. The Kauai Ethics Commission has ruled Portugal did not have a conflict of interest when he failed to issue a cease-and-desist order to Pflueger.
Both Pflueger and Deputy County Engineer Ian Costa said all the requirements for a permit were met before work began, except for Pflueger putting up a bond. Pflueger argued a bond wasn't needed because it would only protect his own land.
On the eve of a Planning Commission meeting, at which Pflueger's application for a subdivision permit was to be voted on, he paid the bond and received the permit.
Costa has notified Pflueger he will not refund the $46,800 bond until the berm is cut down and moved back 10 feet from the property line. Pflueger said he will trim the berm, but not move it. He said it is set back more than 10 feet.
One of the requirements of the Planning Commission subdivision permit is that Pflueger preserve the view of the ocean from the highway. The berm was built to protect future homeowners from having to look at and hear the noise from the highway.
Planning Director Dee Crowell has taken the position that the commission requirement applies only to buildings. The berm, he has said repeatedly, is the county engineer's domain.
County Councilman Gary Hooser has written the planning commission and asked it to put the issue on an agenda in the near future so they can make it clear whether or not the "preserving view corridors" limitation did not include the berm. He has not yet received a reply.