Supreme Court rules in favor of Turtle Bay opponents, developers must provide a new EIS

NORTH SHORE—The planned expansion of the North Shore’s Turtle Bay Resort hit a bump in the road on Thursday when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of Keep the North Shore Country and the Sierra Club Hawaii, who filed a brief in September requesting a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the expansion before construction begins. The ruling means that developer Kuilima Resort Company must complete a new EIS before they can proceed with their plans of expanding the current resort from its current size of around 500 hotel and condo units to 4000 units.

The non-profit organization’s case was heard back in December, when they asked the court to review the decision of the State Intermediate Court of Appeals, where the request of the community for an updated review of the projects environmental and community impacts was rejected. Opponents of the expansion feel that the current EIS, which was completed 25 years ago and does not take into account any environmental changes in the area since then, is not applicable to the project anymore.

However, Kuilima has been standing by the original ruling that no updated EIS would be necessary unless the project itself changes, regardless of how much the project’s surrounding environment changes. In the brief filed by the organizations, they asked for a 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. In ordering a new EIS, the court acknowledged that environmental changes in the area have occurred in the quarter of a century since the original EIS was completed.

Chief Justice Ronald Moon said these factors make the project an “essentially different action” than the one considered 25 years ago.

Environmental changes that community members opposed to the expansion are concerned with include the estimated increase of 2,050 additional cars per hour on Kamehameha Highway that was determined from a 2005 traffic study done for Kuilima Resort Co., as well as the nesting of endangered species like the Hawaiian Monk Seal around the proposed construction area—neither of which are included in the original EIS.

Community opposition has been strong since the resort’s previous owner Oaktree Capital Management announced plans to revive the decades-old plan in 2005, before the company defaulted on its $400 million debt to Credit Suisse and Wells Fargo, causing the resort to linger in foreclosure since 2007.

Maui born local developer Stanford Carr is now heading Kuilima Resort Company as they await final subdivision approval for the project.