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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 20, 2006

Second suit filed against Turtle Bay

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

A newly formed North Shore residents group and the Sierra Club's Hawai'i chapter filed suit yesterday against the city and the company that is planning a major expansion of the Turtle Bay Resort asking for a new environmental impact statement to add to one done 20 years ago.

The "Keep the North Shore Country" group, and the environmental organization sued the city, the city's director of the Department of Planning and Permitting, and the developer, Kuilima Resort Co.

The proposed resort expansion includes five new hotels with 3,500 rooms and four public parks.

Attorney and Hale'iwa resident Laura Couch said the lawsuit asks for a supplemental environmental impact statement because the project is being undertaken two decades after the first environmental assessment was completed.

She said increasing the number of hotel rooms from the present 500 to a total of 4,000 hotel and condominium units means the project is eight times bigger than what's there now.

Couch said the project, as proposed, "will have significant impacts" that include traffic, more visitors, increased water demand, more wastewater, and damage to endangered species habitats, and an impact on aesthetic values, some of which weren't considered earlier.

Couch said the legal fees are being paid by private donations from those concerned.

Doug Cole, a lifelong North Shore resident, said the roads are much more crowded than they were 20 years ago when he was 9 years old, and that assessing the impact now will help the entire community.

Cole said the group is not rejecting the entire project. "We're saying don't do it without looking at it closely," he said.

La'ie resident and real-estate woman Choon James said she and other residents worry that the visitor-oriented expansion will push out the middle-class taxpayers who will end up paying for improved roads and other upgrades needed to cope with the big changes.

"We, the taxpayers, are going to be footing the big bill," James said.

City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, who represents the North Shore, earlier this month proposed that the city administration review and ask for an update of a 1986 development agreement that would allow significant rezoning for the expansion.

He introduced the proposal, saying "substantive changes in the laws and practices regarding issuance of land-use permits have occurred since 1986, when the project was granted" initial permits and zoning approval. Dela Cruz could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the developer, said company officials have not reviewed the lawsuit in detail, but see it as "a rehash of the same issues that are already before the Circuit Court in the lawsuit filed by UNITE HERE! Local 5."

A Circuit Court judge last month refused to grant a preliminary injunction to stop the development based on Local 5's challenge. The court ruled that changes in the project's timing are not sufficient to trigger a supplemental environmental impact statement.

Carlson said the scope of the project is the same as it was when it was negotiated with the community and approved by the city in 1986, and that the unit counts haven't changed. "The community benefits, including jobs and public beach access, are as relevant today as ever," he said.

And Carlson questioned the lawsuit's motivation. He said the plaintiffs contend in their news release that Kawela Bay is "perfect for family days at the beach," but only "a privileged few families currently have access to the beach there."

There is no public access to Kawela Bay, and public access is something the Kahuku community fought for when this ordinance originally was passed in the 1980s, he said.

Some Kahuku residents have praised the project as one that can provide much-needed jobs in the area.

City spokesman Bill Brennan said the city administration had not reviewed the lawsuit in detail and couldn't comment on it specifically. "We believe the issues are likely the same as those in the Local 5 lawsuit, which is still pending," he said.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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