Pflueger is fined more than $7.8M
Environmentalists acclaim the ruling as a success for community activism
James Pflueger's cost for not complying with environmental laws on Kauai climbed past $12 million yesterday, after a proposed record-setting federal settlement of a civil lawsuit.
Kauai community groups the Limu Coalition and Kilauea Neighborhood Association have agreed to settle their federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against the retired Oahu car dealer if he will pay almost $8 million in remediation costs and penalties for damage to Pilaa reef.
The secluded area on the northeast coast of Kauai is less then a mile from the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and was the site of pristine coral reefs with some colonies more than 100 years old.
The proposed settlement, which must be approved by a federal court, includes $5.5 million of remediation and environmental restoration work, $2 million in penalties, $200,000 to upgrade cesspools in nearby Kilauea and $135,000 to fund a mobile water-testing facility for Kauai residents.
The settlement is the largest storm-water settlement in the country for violations at a single site by a single landowner, said Wayne Nastri, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces the Clean Water Act.
The costs announced yesterday are in addition to state fines of $4 million for environmental damage, state criminal penalties of $500,000 and Kauai County fines of $3,075.
All the costs are in connection with illegal grading and earthwork at Pflueger's 378-acre property that caused a Thanksgiving weekend 2001 mudslide which damaged nearby Pilaa beach and reef.
Pflueger, the EPA, U.S. Justice Department, state Department of Health, state attorney general and Kauai County also agreed to the settlement.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maka'ala Ka'aumoana, left and Linda Pasadava lauded yesterday's fine against James Pflueger.*
"Mr. Pflueger regrets the events that led to these claims and believes that this settlement demonstrates his commitment to do the right thing in the community," attorney David Minkin said in a written statement.
Improper activities on Pflueger's land included cutting away a hillside to create a 40-foot vertical road cut, grading a coastal plateau, creating new access roads to the coast and putting dirt and rock fill in three perennial streams, the EPA said.
"It's much cheaper for a landowner and community and for the environment for people to get the permits in the first place and comply with the permits," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who represented the citizens groups.
"This is a huge victory on so many levels," Henkin said, "because the settlement itself is going to have such great benefit for the local environment there, and it can serve as a model for how the community can get involved."
Linda Pasadava, president of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association, said her group hoped to send out "a simple message from simple people: Infractions on our environment will not be tolerated. A landowner or developer does not have the right to do whatever they want."
Limu Coalition spokeswoman Maka'ala Ka'aumoana said her group is composed of "dozens of organizations, fisherfolk, farmers and working men and women" who were upset by the damage caused by Pflueger's actions.
"The wonderful message for our community is that he will now fix those things that he broke," Ka'aumoana said.
As contractors hired by Pflueger go about the agreed-to remediation spelled out in the settlement, "we will be watching," she said.
Larry Lau, state Department of Health deputy director for environmental health, said that the state is available to help environmental permit applicants to "do the right thing." But, he added, yesterday's announcement emphasizes that "our state policy is vigorous enforcement of pollution control laws."
Since a November 2001 landslide from James Pflueger's land on Kauai's North Shore sent mud onto Pilaa beach and reef, several actions have been taken against the retired Oahu car dealer. Here is a chronology:
» 2003: Pflueger pleads no contest to three Kauai County misdemeanor charges, pays a $3,075 fine and performs 450 hours of community service.
» May 12, 2005: He pleads guilty to 10 felony water pollution counts and is fined $500,000 in state criminal court, avoiding potential prison time.
» June 30: The state Land Board fines Pflueger $4 million for damage to the reef and beach. He is appealing the fine to state Circuit Court.
» Yesterday: In a proposed settlement of federal Clean Water Act violations, Pflueger would pay for more than $5.5 million of remediation and environmental restoration work at Pilaa Bay; $2 million in penalties; $200,000 to replace cesspools with septic systems at nearby homes; and $135,000 for a mobile water quality laboratory, to be operated by the Hanalei Watershed Hui.
» Still pending: A lawsuit against Pflueger by neighbors whose property was damaged by the landslide.
Star-Bulletin reporter Tom Finnegan contributed to this report.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
» Two Kauai residents were misidentified in some editions Friday in a Page A1 photo with an article about environmental fines against James Pflueger. Maka'ala Ka'aumoana is on the left and Linda Pasadava on the right.