Conservation groups have dropped a lawsuit against Kauai’s electric utility that alleged the utility failed to protect seabirds.
The utility’s power lines and street lights account for approximately 200 deaths a year of Newell shearwater’s on Kauai, which are designated as a threatened species and protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. About two endangered Hawaiian petrels are also killed a year by the utility’s infrastructure, according to David Henkin, an attorney at Honolulu-based Earthjustice, which filed the suit.
The Newell’s shearwater population is believed to have declined by 75 percent from 1993 to 2008, and currently numbers about 16,000 birds.
The utility had been out of compliance with federal law governing threatened and endangered species and failed to obtain a federal take permit that sets a limit on the number of birds that can die annually before fines are levied. The utility acquired the federal permit in May after coming up with a habitat conservation plan. It still needs to obtain a state take permit.
The cost of the plan is estimated at $11.3 million over the course of the next five years, which will be absorbed by the ratepayers of the nonprofit, member-owned co-op.
While the utility criticized the lawsuit when it was filed last year for unnecessarily burdening its ratepayers, Henkin said the legal action was necessary because the utility repeatedly refused to comply with the law.
The Department of Justice also filed a criminal lawsuit against the utility last year, which included 19 different counts for knowingly harming or killing dozens of Newell’s shearwaters and Laysan albatrosses between 2003 and 2009. The federal lawsuit was resolved by a plea agreement in December, which allowed the utility to avoid penalties for bird deaths.
The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative has taken numerous steps over the years to protect threatened seabirds, according to Anne Barnes, spokeswoman for the utility. In addition to shielding street lights, she said the utility had worked to underground existing and proposed power lines, had supported seabird predator control, experimented with increasing the visibility of power lines and funded the Save Our Shearwaters Program.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.