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Supreme Court: DOW study Flawed

LIHU‘E — The state Supreme Court turned the tables in the case between the Kaua‘i Department of Water and Kia‘i Wai O Wai‘ale‘ale last week, issuing a ruling in favor of the community group.

The 52-page, unanimous ruling reversed a series of Circuit Court judgments in favor of the DOW.

The case is centered around the environmental assessment for a proposed 9,000-foot, 18-inch water main which would increase water capacity for Grove Farm’s Lihu‘e area development. The project is a collaboration between the county and Grove Farm, with the corporation shouldering one third of the roughly $3 million in costs and DOW ratepayers covering the other two thirds.

A 2018 assessment concluded that the project would have no significant environmental impact.

But later that year, Kia‘i Wai O Wai‘ale‘ale filed a 10-count complaint contesting the adequacy of the assessment.

The Friday court ruling largely agrees with the community organization, saying the study was too narrow.

Supreme Court justices ruled that “KDOW did not properly analyze the impact of water withdrawals facilitated by the relief line,” and that they “erred by limiting the scope of its environmental analysis to the physical footprint of the proposed project.”

“The (environmental assessment) does not analyze possible increased water withdrawals, concluding the relief line “will not increase withdrawal of water,” the ruling reads. “However, the record — including the (environmental assessment) itself — indicates the relief line will carry more water from an upgraded water-treatment plant to meet the needs of new developments.”

Another point of contention was the public-comment process. The ruling states that KDOW finalized the environmental assessment without waiting to receive mailed comments, suggesting “that the [consideration of comments] is an afterthought and that proceedings were merely moving in predestined grooves.”

The court further ruled that the public participation was hindered because the EA did not provide a “candid assessment” of the line’s purpose and function.

Bridget Hammerquist of Kia‘i Wai ‘o Wai‘ale‘ale called the ruling “a big win for the environment,” arguing that the project posed a danger to the local aquifer.

“How many million gallons are they taking from the stream?” said Hammerquist. “How much can you take from the streambed and not restore the aquifer?”

The court ordered KDOW to issue a new EA that “either analyzes the effects of increased water use or explains how the relief line will not facilitate increased water withdrawals.” The case is now being sent to the environmental court for further proceedings, including a determination of whether injunctive relief is warranted.

The DPW Monday said it would comply with the ruling.

“The project will remain on hold until the department receives confirmation it has met its obligations under the law, or the department determines that it cannot proceed with the project,” said KDOW in a statement.

No construction has occurred on the main, due to the active case.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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