Hawaii Landowner To Pay $7.5 Million For Stormwater Pollution

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 largest stormwater settlement for violations at a single site, by a single landowner in the United States, the federal government announced on March 9.

The settlement calls for the payment of $2 million in penalties to the state of Hawaii and the United States, 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 stormwater 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, 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."

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 foot vertical road cut, grading a coastal plateau, creating new access roads to the coast, and placing dirt and rock fill into three perennial streams.

"Stormwater 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.

As a result of this unpermitted construction activity, discharges of sediment-laden stormwater have flowed to the Pacific Ocean at Pila'a Bay, damaging a beachfront home, the beach and coral reefs.

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-foot 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.

EPA and the Hawaii Department of Health issued parallel enforcement orders in June 2002 to Pflueger for stormwater 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.

For more information, visit http://www.epa.gov/region09/water/npdes/pflueger. A copy of the consent decree lodged on March 9 is available on the U.S. Department of Justice Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.