State fines Pflueger $4M
for damage to Kauai reef
The state has fined retired Oahu auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger more than $4 million to pay for damage to a Kauai beach and reef caused by runoff from his property.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources levied one of its largest fines ever seven weeks after a judge fined Pflueger $500,000 as part of a sentence for pleading guilty in a criminal case related to the runoff that occurred in 2001.
The board in its action Thursday said the damage done to the reef and beach at Pilaa Beach caused by the runoff from Pflueger's property amounted to $3.96 million. He also was ordered to pay $69,996 in administrative costs.
In the incident, a massive mudslide washed across a neighboring property and into the ocean because of deep cuts Pflueger made on his Pilaa property in building a road. He acknowledged in a written statement that he did not have a grading permit for the road.
Pflueger's attorney for the criminal case, Benjamin Cassiday III, said Pflueger accepted responsibility in the criminal case, but the big fine was an attempt to "scam him for his money."
"There was no damage to the reef. They're just trying to rip him off," said Cassiday, who is related to Pflueger. "Any damage that was done to that reef was done years ago when they had a plantation there and they were using fertilizer on the sugar cane."
Sam Lemmo, administrator for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, said he assembled a team of experts who found considerable damage to the reef, and said there is still mud on the beach.
"If the sedimentation is controlled, then that will give the reef the opportunity to recover," he said. "It will take time for the reef to recover. Some of the coral heads damaged were 100 years old, so it will take a couple of generations."
Lemmo, who said the $4 million fine was the largest he has seen, said Pflueger could possibly appeal the judgment to the Circuit Court.
His attorney in the matter before the state board, Wesley Ching, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Cassiday said he could not say whether Pflueger would appeal, because he did not represent him in that case.
Lemmo had organized a team of coral biologists, marine biologists, coastal geologists, fisheries experts and algae experts to examine Pilaa Beach.
"We put a lot of effort into this case because it was such a shocking incident to go out there and see the situation that had developed as a result of what he had been doing on his private land," Lemmo said. "We went out there and there was just mud everywhere."
He said the entire ecosystem, not just the coral, was damaged, with a reduction in biological diversity, fewer fish and a reduction in algae species.
But Cassiday said he has gone scuba diving off the reef and found no damage. He said he also has talked to local fishermen who told him there was no reduction in the number of fish.
"That's all it is, a money thing," he said of the fine. "If you ever go down there, you'll see that the water is crystal clear. It looks like the 'Blue Lagoon.'"
On May 12, Pflueger pleaded guilty to 10 felony water pollution counts in connection with the case and was fined $500,000 -- a record for a criminal environmental case.
Pflueger had faced a maximum 40 years in prison in that case, but Circuit Judge George Masuoka sentenced him instead to three years' probation.
Cassiday said Pflueger would pay that fine and did not plan to appeal the criminal case.