I’ve been looking into the impact of the Hawaii Supreme Court‘s Turtle Bay decision. The court essentially ruled that just because an Environmental Impact Statement has been approved, that doesn’t mean the approval lasts forever. The Turtle Bay EIS was 25 years old, and conditions in the surrounding environment had changed enough, the court said, that it needed to be redone, even though the project’s plans haven’t changed.

I figured it would be easy to find out how many such statements have been completed over the past 30 years, and how many of those were for projects that aren’t done yet. That might tell me how many projects could be affected by the precedent. But I quickly discovered that there’s no single government agency with that information, as you might think there would be.

The state Office of Environmental Quality Control is supposed to be the clearinghouse for these documents. It’s got roughly 4,000 on file, but a rep for OEQC couldn’t tell me which ones are outstanding, yet to be constructed or completed. They’re not concerned with what happens after the EIS is completed and on the books. The City of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting doesn’t keep a database for the documents it approves, and a city spokesman couldn’t tell me what projects have received permits.

This is an example of how something that seems relatively simple doesn’t turn out that way. Does anybody have a suggestion where I might get this information? The potential statewide impact of the Turtle Bay decision seems important to me. Shouldn’t the public be able to answer for itself how the Supreme Court’s decision could affect future growth?

About the Author