Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Kauai utility admits violations

The electricity provider accepts probation and fines for not protecting threatened seabirds

By Nelson Daranciang


The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to violating the Endangered Species and Migratory Bird Treaty acts and paid fines totaling $40,000.

In addition, the electricity provider accepted an 18-month probation sentence and agreed to donate $225,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the benefit of threatened shearwaters, a migratory seabird endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. During the period of probation, KIUC must make certain corrective measures to minimize future violations.

A federal grand jury charged KIUC in May with 19 law violations for failing to take adequate steps to prevent the deaths of Newell's shearwaters and Laysan albatrosses that crashed into utility structures and power lines.

"The Department of Justice sought criminal prosecution of KIUC only after a long history of attempts to resolve ongoing violations," said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The shearwater and albatross are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the federal government lists the shearwater as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

KIUC pleaded guilty to one violation of each act involving the Newell's shearwater, also known as the Hawaiian shearwater or a'o.

"Despite having a good defense to many of the charges, KIUC wisely decided to spend its money addressing bird conservation rather than on litigation costs associated with a trial," said William Goodman, KIUC lawyer.

The corrective measures include initiating the reconfiguration of power lines that cross paths the birds take when flying between the ocean and their inland burrows, planting trees to shield the lines from the birds and installing video cameras to monitor certain stretches of power line.

"This is a start, but more needs to be done to address all of the impacts of the utility's power lines," said David Henkin, a lawyer for Earthjustice.

Earthjustice represents a coalition of conservation groups that sued KIUC for the decline of the shearwater and the endangered Hawaiian petrel, or 'ua'u, allegedly caused by utility-owned structures, power lines and street lights.

The coalition agreed to put its lawsuit on hold pending the resolution of KIUC's criminal prosecution and the utility's permit application under the Endangered Species Act.

Kauai County paid a $15,000 fine and agreed to take corrective measures in September after pleading guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act involving shearwaters. The county's plea agreement with the government affected nighttime football games over concern that Vidinha Stadium lights attract and confuse newborn shearwaters traveling from their inland burrows to the ocean.

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