Conservation groups ask courts to hear case on outdated Turtle Bay EIS

News Report
Jade Eckardt

KAHUKU—On September 17, community support was shown for the North Shore when six state and national conservation organizations, represented by non-profit public interest law firm Earthjustice, filed a brief in the Hawaii Supreme Court asking the court to take up the appeal of community preservation groups Keep the North Shore Country and the Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter. The two groups filed suit in early September, challenging the existing 25-year-old Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed expansion and further development of the North shore’s Turtle Bay Resort by proposed developer, Kuilima Resort Company. 

The appeal asks for the court to review the split 2-1 decision of the State Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA), where the request of the community for an updated review of the project’s environmental and community impacts was rejected. The court’s decision was to uphold the original ruling that no EIS update would be necessary unless the project itself changes, regardless of how much the project’s surrounding environment changes.

In the brief they filed, the organizations ask for reversal of the blanket rule, which states that agencies would never be required or even allowed to consider changes in a project’s environment, no matter how potentially significant the environmental impacts may be. Since 1985, the area has experienced environmental changes like significant traffic problems. Endangered species such as the Hawaiian Monk Seal have been seen nesting around the proposed construction area where Kuilima Resort Company intends to expand the current hotel from less than 500 rooms to 4000 hotel and condominium units.

“This case highlights why allowing a project to plow ahead based on an outdated EIS, just because the project itself hasn’t changed, makes no sense,” Moriwake said.

Keep the North Shore Country president Gil Riviere said Tuesday: “We’re excited and we are feeling really optimistic about our suit with the support of these groups.”

The six supporting organizations (Conservation Council of Hawaii, Surfrider Foundation, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Life of the Land, Maui Tomorrow Foundation, and KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance) have been working to improve adherence to Hawai’i's EIS process as well as ensure that environmental laws are up-to-date and enforceable.

In a recent press release, Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake said: “This case highlights why allowing a project to plow ahead based on an outdated EIS, just because the project itself hasn’t changed, makes no sense. It is precisely because the project hasn’t changed, despite an entire generation of change on the North Shore, that we need an update on the true impacts of the original proposal.”