On Monday a pair of environmental groups announced their intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if it fails to take immediate steps to prevent construction at the site of a planned Kauai luxury condominium development from harming two endangered species.

Soluri Meserve, an environmental law group based in Sacramento, filed the notice on behalf of Save Koloa and Friends of Mahaulepu, a pair of nonprofits that say they’re guarding the potential last refuge of the town’s imperiled sightless creatures found nowhere else on earth.

Blasting associated with land grading work on the 25-acre site of a planned luxury condo complex is expected to continue for eight months, with blasts occurring three or four times weekly. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2022

Underground caves in the area adjacent to the development of the planned Kauanoe O Koloa condo complex represent some of the only known habitat for the Kauai cave wolf spider, which has three teeth to eat its prey and no eyes, and the Kauai cave amphipod, a blind, shrimp-like crustacean about the size of a fingernail.

Federal wildlife regulators say it’s reasonable to think the invertebrates also reside in other nearby lava tubes unexplored by scientists due to their inaccessibility.

Last month, explosions used to break rock as part of a land-grading project for the 279-unit condo complex exposed a hole in the earth that Save Koloa and Friends of Mahaulepu claim to be a preexisting underground cavern that could be critical habitat for the pair of endangered species.

Colin Thompson, vice president of construction at Pacific Meridian, which is developing the condo project, has tried to debunk this claim, arguing that the environmental groups have misinterpreted the crevice in the earth as a cave when really it’s the result of “micro-blasting” methods underway to build infrastructure improvements, such as storm water drainage. The project has a team of expert geologists, biologists and archaeologists who conducted pre-drilling tests, site surveys and ongoing monitoring to ensure that the blasting will not have adverse environmental effects, according to Thompson.

Although not legally binding, the FWS last year recommended that, “if a cave is found during construction, work around the cave stops immediately.” Federal and state environmental regulators should also be contacted to provide guidance on how to minimize and mitigate adverse effects to the endangered species, the agency said.

The environmental groups say they want the FWS to enforce these and other recommendations to protect endangered species and their habitat.

The intent-to-sue notice marks environmentalists’ second legal attempt to intervene in the condo development.

Citing harm to endangered wildlife habitat, a lawsuit filed last month in 5th Circuit Court by Save Koloa claims the developer is jeopardizing Hawaii residents’ environmental interests under a section of the state constitution, which declares that each person has the right to natural resource conservation and protection. Kauai County, which approved the developer’s grading and grubbing permit, is also named a defendant.

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