The U.S. government and its partners announced that James Pflueger will pay more than $7.5 million for Clean Water Act violations associated with construction activities on Pflueger’s property at Pila’a on Kaua’i.
The Department of Justice, U.S. EPA, Hawai’i Department of Health, Kauai County, Earthjustice, Limu Coalition and Kilauea Neighborhood Association are all part of the largest storm water settlement for violations at a single site, by a single landowner, in the U.S.
The settlement calls for the payment of $2 million in penalties to the state of Hawai’i and the U.S., and Pflueger will spend approximately $5.3 million to prevent erosion and restore streams at areas damaged by the construction activity. The settlement also requires Pflueger to spend $200,000 to replace cesspools with improved wastewater systems at residences in a nearby coastal community.
“The unauthorized construction work at Pila’a did not incorporate storm water erosion control measures required by permits issued under the Clean Water Act. These measures would have prevented the extensive damage caused by Pflueger’s construction,” said Wayne Nastri, the EPA’s administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “This settlement will reduce erosion, restore stream systems and native plant habitats, resulting in healthier stream, ocean and reef ecosystems.”
“We are pleased to finally reach an agreement on major remedies to deal with major water pollution problems,” said Laurence Lau, deputy director for Environmental Health, Hawaii Department of Health.
The construction site at Pila’a encompasses approximately 378 acres of coastal property on Kaua’i. Pflueger conducted grading and other land-disturbing construction at the site beginning in 1997 without obtaining permits. The activities included cutting away a hillside to create a 40 ft vertical road cut, grading a coastal plateau, creating new access roads to the coast, and placing dirt and rock fill into three perennial streams.
“Storm water requirements have been in place for a long time. Developers must be responsible for their actions to ensure compliance with the law. Runoff from construction sites is a primary contributor to the impairment of water quality and EPA is vigorously enforcing federal regulations to help reduce this problem,” said Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement is a strong signal of this administration’s commitment to increased enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws and regulations.”
“Protecting the environment has been a top priority of the Department of the Attorney General. Those who violate our environmental laws must know that when they are caught, they will pay a very heavy price,” said Mark Bennett, Hawaii attorney general. “That is the only way to deter the type of conduct that took place here. This case is an example of the exceptional cooperation between the State of Hawaii and the EPA, which continues.”
As a result of this unpermitted construction activity, discharges of sediment-laden storm water have flowed to the Pacific Ocean at Pila’a Bay, damaging a beachfront home, the beach and coral reefs.
“Today's joint settlement represents one of the largest ever civil penalties for storm water violations,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The defendant’s violations were serious and this settlement will ensure that the necessary storm water runoff controls will be installed, strengthening compliance with environmental laws and ensuring that valuable natural resources will be protected in the future.”
Based on plans approved by the EPA and other parties to this settlement, Pflueger began corrective work in September 2004 and continues to stabilize vulnerable areas of the Pila’a property and nearby Kaloko.
This work includes completion of a wall to stabilize the 40-ft vertical road cut adjacent to the Pila’a Bay shoreline. Pflueger will maintain erosion controls on roadways and trails that are used on the property. The plan calls for terracing of slopes, using native plants to control erosion at vulnerable sites, and control of invasive plant species for all vegetation work.
Soil and rock used to fill portions of the streams to build a road and several dams will be removed. The remaining dams will be lowered and stabilized. Workers will reconstruct streambeds to a more natural state by growing native plants along the banks.
The EPA and the Hawai’i Department of Health issued parallel enforcement orders in June 2002 to Pflueger for storm water violations associated with construction activities at his Pila’a property. Also in 2002, Earthjustice, a national non-profit public interest law firm, filed a lawsuit against Pflueger under provisions of the federal Clean Water Act on behalf of two community groups, the Limu Coalition and the Kilauea Neighborhood Association.
There are related state enforcement actions against Pflueger for his activities at Pila’a. In May 2005 Pflueger pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts in Hawaii state criminal court and was ordered to pay a $500,000 penalty. In July 2005, the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources fined Pflueger $4 million for natural resource damages associated with sediment runoff and damage to the beach and coral reef at Pila’a.