Farmers, fishers sue State regarding West Kaua‘i Energy Project
West Kaua‘i farmers and fishers are suing the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources arguing the state agency did not require an Environmental Impact Statement for a massive hydroelectric project planned along the Waimea River.
Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative – the county’s electricity provider – is planning to rehabilitate existing reservoirs, roads and irrigation systems throughout the West Side with project partner AES, a Fortune 500 global energy company.
The resulting hydroelectric system, dubbed the West Kaua‘i Energy Project, would provide up to 25 percent of the county’s power supply, according to the utility cooperative.
Late last December, in the final days of her term, outgoing Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairperson Suzanne Case issued a “finding of no significant impact” for the West Kaua‘i Energy Project. The finding, based on a years-long Environmental Assessment conducted by Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative and AES, precluded the need for a Environmental Impact Statement, according to a press release by the utility citing the “finding of no significant impact.”
On Monday, West Kaua‘i community groups Pō‘ai Wai Ola and Nā Kia‘i Kai filed a complaint against the Department of Land and Natural Resources and its leading body, the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
“As we have said many times, we want an EIS [environmental impact statement] done because water is our life,” said Kawai Warren, a fisherman and leader of Nā Kia‘i Kai. “A midnight rubber stamp like this demonstrates the ineptness of DLNR.”
Pō‘ai Wai Ola and Nā Kia‘i Kai are represented by Earth Justice, a nonprofit environmental law organization with offices throughout the United States. Earth Justice attorneys allege the Department of Land and Natural Resources improperly delegated authority to its chairperson in 2015 to approve a “finding of no significant impact” without a public hearing and Board of Land and Natural Resources oversight.
Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative and AES expect to divert an average of 11 million gallons a day from the Waimea River for 65 years, under the West Kaua‘i Energy Project.
Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative held several public “Talk Story Tuesday” sessions with community members throughout the summer and fall of 2021, dedicated to the West Kaua‘i Energy Project.
But Pō‘ai Wai Ola and Nā Kia‘i Kai have raised concerns the diverted water will pollute the ocean after traveling through drainage ditches containing pollutants.
“KIUC’s hydro proposal is a legacy project that will affect our community well beyond our lifetimes,” said Galen Ka‘ōhi, lifelong Waimea resident, cultural practitioner and president of Pōʻai Wai Ola. “The plantation didn’t do an EIS [Environmental Impact Study] when it drained Waimea River a century ago. But we’re not going to make the same mistake for another century.”