HDOT IS IN COMPLIANCE WITH ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS AND COMMENTS ON EARTHJUSTICE’S LAWSUIT ALLEGING VIOLATIONS
News Release from HDOT, Aug 23, 2017
HONOLULU – The Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) is tasked with the essential role of ensuring safe transportation facilities for the citizens of Hawaii as well as the millions of visitors to the Islands each year. HDOT also plays another critical role – that of a trustee of the State’s environmental resources which requires it to conserve and maintain natural resources for the benefit of all the citizens of the State. HDOT takes both of these responsibilities extremely seriously and always seeks to identify ways to improve management of its facilities for the benefit of natural resources while maintaining safe operations.
In the past several years, HDOT has proactively evaluated ways that its facilities can be operated in a manner that is most protective of all of the Islands’ sensitive resources, including threatened and endangered seabirds and other species. For example, HDOT recently expended hundreds of millions of dollars to install energy efficient lighting improvements at the State airports and commercial harbors to avoid impacts to sensitive species on the Islands as well as millions of dollars to safely translocate the endangered Nene away from airport facilities. HDOT has been and continues to be actively engaged with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with overseeing implementation of the federal Endangered Species Act, to ensure that the facilities are operated in ways that are consistent with federal laws and policies. HDOT has also been open to meeting with environmental groups and other interested parties to explore effective ways of further benefiting listed and sensitive species.
Given its steadfast commitment to protecting Hawaii’s listed species, HDOT was disappointed to learn today that Earthjustice filed a lawsuit alleging that state-operated airports and harbors on Kauai, Maui and Lanai have resulted in unauthorized take of federally listed seabirds. HDOT will vigorously defend the State’s interest in this suit. While HDOT cannot comment on the specific allegations in an active lawsuit, it does want to reaffirm its commitment to operate its facilities in manners which are protective of all sensitive species and are consistent with legal requirements.
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Lawsuit Filed to Prevent Hawaii's Airport, Harbor Lights From Killing Endangered Seabirds
Bright Lights at State-operated Facilities Continue to Kill, Injure Rare Birds
News Release from Center for Biological Diversity, August 23, 2017
Honolulu, Hawaii— Conservation groups today filed a lawsuit against the Hawaii Department of Transportation for failing to address the injuries and death to critically imperiled seabirds from bright lighting at state-operated airports and harbors on Kauai, Maui and Lānai.
The Newell’s shearwater is a threatened species, and Hawaiian petrels and band-rumped storm petrels in Hawaii are endangered species. The transportation department’s failure to protect these native seabirds from harmful operations at its facilities violates the federal Endangered Species Act, according to the lawsuit filed by Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Āina, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and the Center for Biological Diversity. The groups are represented by nonprofit law firm Earthjustice.
The seabirds are attracted to bright lights, like those at the department’s airport and harbor facilities. Indeed, those facilities are among the largest documented sources in the state of injury and death to the birds. The seabirds become disoriented and circle the lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion or crash into nearby buildings.
On Kauai, which is home to most of the threatened Newell’s shearwaters remaining on the planet, bright lights have contributed significantly to the catastrophic 94 percent decline in the Newell’s shearwater population since the 1990s. At the same time, Hawaiian petrel numbers on Kauai have plummeted by 78 percent. Remnant breeding populations of the imperiled seabirds cling to survival on Maui and Lānai.
“Our ancestors depended on the ‘a‘o (Newell’s shearwater), ‘ua‘u (Hawaiian petrel) and ‘akē‘akē (band-rumped storm-petrel) to help locate schools of fish, to navigate from island to island and to know when the weather is changing,” said Kauai fisherman Jeff Chandler of Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Āina, which works to protect cultural and natural resources. “We filed this lawsuit because we’ve had enough of the Department of Transportation ignoring its kuleana(responsibility) to protect these culturally important creatures.”
“The tragic deaths of these endangered seabirds were preventable,” said Brian Segee, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Department of Transportation can’t keep ignoring the Endangered Species Act. The department needs to do right by these amazing birds and improve conditions on the ground to offset the real harm caused over the years by these very bright lights.”
Last October, the department abruptly broke off discussions with federal and state wildlife agencies regarding its participation in an island-wide habitat conservation plan to minimize and mitigate harm to the rare seabirds on Kauai.
“It is incredibly saddening to know how endangered these seabirds have become,” said Marjorie Ziegler of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “They are integral parts of our island ecosystem and native Hawaiian culture. We hope this lawsuit will finally spur our government to take the necessary steps to protect them.”
The groups seek to compel the department to comply with its obligations under the Endangered Species Act to minimize and mitigate harm to the imperiled seabirds by securing incidental take permit coverage of its activities on all three islands. As required by the Act, on June 15, the citizen groups provided advance notice of their intent to sue.
“Our notice letter prodded the department back into talks over participating in the island-wide habitat conservation plan on Kauai,” said David Henkin, an Earthjustice attorney representing the groups. “That’s a good start, but talk alone will do nothing to save these rare and important animals from extinction. It’s long past time for the department to take action, not only on Kauai, but everywhere in the state that its operations illegally kill seabirds.”