Turtle Bay expansion opponents hopeful after supplemental EIS hearing

News Report
Jade Eckardt

KAHUKU—On December 17, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court heard the case of Keep the North Shore Country and the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. The organizations filed a brief in September requesting a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Turtle Bay Resort expansion plan before construction begins. The non-profit organizations 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.

“It went very, very well,” said Keep the North Shore Country president Gil Riviere of Thursday’s hearing. “Our attorney was at the top of his game.”

The court will now take the matter under advisement, although it is unknown when they will publish a ruling.

The EIS used in the original approval for the development was completed in 1985 and no new information on the current state of the North Shore’s environment has been applied. Environmental changes that community members 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.

A Pūpūkea resident at the hearing said: “That would be like the Eddie traffic every day.”

With Rory Wicks representing Keep the North Shore Country, Don Kitaoka for the City, and Sharon Lovejoy for Kuilima, Aliʻiolani Hale was reported to be a full house with “property folks and environmental folks” by HawaiiOceanLaw.com. Wicks and Lovejoy each argued in defense of their clients, with Wicks gaining praise from Keep the North Shore Country for his work.

Near the hearing’s end, Lovejoy asked, “Should there be a shelf life for EIS?”

A North Shore resident who read Hawaiioceanlaw.com’s transcription of the hearing responded, “Yes! Of course there should be. The environment changes, as well as resident’s needs and lives in an area. Traffic, nature, species in the area, it all changes. Twenty-four years is enough time for things to change and a new EIS is definitely needed for this project. They base this all on if the project has changed, but in 24 years an environment changes. Therefore, the same project will have a different effect on it’s surroundings than it would have 24 years ago.”

However, Kuilima is standing by the court’s decision to uphold 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 they filed, the organizations ask 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.

According to HawaiiOceanLaw.com, Wicks acknowledged that “there was a change in 2005. Original project hotel room to condo ratio. The developer changed configuration in 2005. People come and go more from hotel rooms than condo, with more traffic.”

Thinking back on the hearing Riviere noted, “They [Kuilima] could not answer this question. You mean that this environmental study is valid in perpetuity, even in 50 years from now? The City and Kuilima couldn’t answer that.”

Kuilima Resort Company, who is planning the expansion, is now headed by Maui born local developer Stanford Carr and is awaiting final subdivision approval for five new hotels and 1,000 luxury condominiums at the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oʻahu. The development company is planning to expand the resort from its current size of around 500 hotel and condo units to 4,000 units based on a development plan that was approved 24 years ago.

Riviere said on Friday, “A supplemental EIS should have been completed before the tentative subdivision approval was issued.”

The resort, formally owned exclusively by Oaktree Capital Management, has been lingering in foreclosure since 2007 after it defaulted on its $400 million debt to Credit Suisse and Wells Fargo.

“After the governor said ‘let’s save it, we’ll keep Turtle Bay how it is and preserve the rest of the land,’ the bank hired Carr to move forward with the development,” Riviere said.

Currently, the Tentative Subdivision Approval granted in 2006 is now on its fifth extension.

“There is not a better example of when an SEIS is needed,” Riviere said.