Better and cheaper to do the right thing
A Kauai landowner has agreed to pay nearly $8 million to settle storm water violations.
FOR what would have cost about $6,000 to do legally, a Kauai landowner will now have to pay close to $8 million in federal fines and fixes
. Would that he had chosen to do the right thing in the first place, before his actions damaged streams, pristine coral reefs and the property of others.
The case of James Pflueger, who has acknowledged he ignored county and state rules and federal Clean Water Act regulations, stands as a cautionary tale, according to state Attorney General Mark Bennett, who warned that those who violate environmental laws "will pay a very heavy price."
The penalties are the result of a settlement involving the Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Health, Kauai County and Earthjustice, representing two community organizations, who sued Pflueger after unpermitted grading work he did on his property resulted in a damaging mudslide.
The illegal work included cutting a 40-foot cliffside to make a road, grading a coastal plateau and filling three perennial streams with rock and dirt without taking required measures to control storm water.
In November 2001, heavy rain sent large amounts of mud and debris into neighboring property and the ocean, damaging not only the reefs -- some with colonies more than a century old -- but an entire ecosystem where recovery may take hundreds of years.
Pflueger has the dubious distinction of posting what the EPA says is the nation's largest settlement for storm water violations at a single site by a single landowner.
He also was hit with a $4 million fine, the largest levied by the state for an environmental crime, though he has appealed.
All told, he may end up paying $12 million, not counting what he may have to lay out in lawsuits filed by his neighbors. Compared to the $6,000 state officials estimate he could have spent for permits and proper runoff restraints, the price of unruliness is steep.
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