A Honolulu federal district court judge has granted an order to close a long-standing case against retired car dealer James Pflueger for environmental damage to coastal property in Pilaa on Kauai’s North Shore.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren recently granted a joint motion filed by Pflueger and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to terminate a consent decree in the case involving damage to coral reef and bay at Pilaa caused by a massive mudslide from Pflueger’s property in November 2001 during heavy rainfall.
A recent inspection to the site where remediation and restoration work was conducted by Pflueger satisfied the EPA.
In an EPA news release, Alexis Strauss, acting regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said: “Thanks to the work completed under this settlement, this once-degraded land has a healthy population of native trees and shrubs and restored stream channels.”
The federal government, state Department of Health and two community groups — Limu Coalition and the Kilauea Neighborhood Association — sued Pflueger in connection with unauthorized grading and dirt filling at a 378-acre coastal site without permits required by the federal Clean Water Act.
EPA said Pflueger’s unpermitted construction activities included “excavating a hillside to expose a 40-foot vertical road cut, grading a coastal plateau, creating new access roads to the coast and dumping dirt and rock into three perennial streams.”
Sediment destroyed 100-year-old coral heads in the bay, according to Earthjustice attorney David Henkin who represented the two community groups. “That kind of damage can’t be undone.”
Under a consent decree settlement in 2006, Pflueger was required to conduct restoration work including construction of a wall to stabilize the road cut; remove dam material in streams; and install erosion controls on roadways and trails and terrace slopes. Also, Pflueger was required to build natural rock-lined stream beds and plant native plants along the banks.
The recent termination of the federal consent decree comes two years after Pflueger completed stabilization and restoration work in June 2014. Attorney Wesley Ching who represented Pflueger, Pflueger Properties and Pilaa 400 LLC, said a two-year monitoring period of vegetation growth at the property took place following completion of restoration work.
Henkin said the restoration work has been “very successful in stabilizing the landslide of the property so that there are no additional flows of mud and muck on to the reef.”
A final inspection of the property was conducted in June. The federal environmental agency was satisfied with restoration work, prompting the federal government and Pflueger to jointly file a motion at federal court requesting termination of the consent decree.
Pflueger paid approximately $2 million in penalties to the state and U.S, described by the federal environmental agency as the largest Clean Water Act penalty for violations at a single site by a sole landowner in the U.S.
Preliminary estimates on remediation and restoration costs was approximately $5.3 million. Ching did not have an exact figure on final costs but did note it was in the “millions.”
In an e-mailed statement, Stuart Yamada, chief of the Department of Health’s Environmental Management Division, said, “The Department of Health is pleased that the restoration activities were successful and that this case is now behind us. We hope that others will learn from this and prevent pollution from construction activities.”
Pflueger’s 378-acre property was sold in the fall of 2014. A small section on the Kilauea side was purchased by an individual on the mainland, and the lion’s share of the land on the Lihue side was bought by an entity under Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg.