Lawsuit claims bright lights at airports, harbors harm native seabirds


The Hawaii Department of Transportation is facing a lawsuit over lights at its airports and harbors.

The non-profit law firm Earthjustice says the department is not doing anything about the bright lights at its facilities on Kauai, Maui, and Lanai, which they say are injuring and killing native seabirds.

They say this is a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

According to the lawsuit:

“While there are other sources of bright light, Defendant’s airport and harbor facilities on Kaua‘i, Maui and Lāna‘i are among the largest documented sources of seabird take from light attraction in the state. Plaintiffs bring this action to protect these critically imperiled species by compelling Defendant’s compliance with its mandatory duties under the ESA. Specifically, as described more fully herein, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that, in the absence of a lawful incidental take permit, Defendants’ activities at its facilities violate the ESA’s prohibition on unpermitted “take” of federally listed species. Plaintiffs also seek appropriate injunctive relief to protect Newell’s shearwaters, Hawaiian petrels and Bandrumped Storm-petrels from further harm from Defendant’s illegal activities.”

View the lawsuit in its entirety here.

The department issued the following statement Wednesday:

“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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