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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kauai utility sued over rare seabirds

By Coco Zickos
Garden Island

LĪHU'E, Kaua'i Four conservation groups have sued the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative for allegedly failing to implement "common-sense measures" and neglecting to secure an incidental take permit to help mitigate the deaths and injuries to rare native seabirds.

The Conservation Council for Hawai'i, Hui Ho'omalu i Ka 'Aina, Center for Biological Diversity and American Bird Conservancy are accusing the co-op of continuing to violate the Endangered Species Act by allowing "unpermitted 'take' of federally listed species," according to the documents supplied by attorneys from Earthjustice.

The lawsuit was filed last week.

KIUC was "surprised and disappointed" to learn about the lawsuit, the co-op's president and CEO, Randy Hee, said Sunday. "If anything, it hinders actions" and diverts KIUC's attention away from activities that help prevent threatened Newell's shearwater ('a'o) and endangered Hawaiian petrel ('ua'u) takes, or inadvertent killings.

"Despite KIUC's efforts working in the utmost good faith to address issues raised by Earthjustice, they chose to sue, which benefits no one, will cost the ratepayers/member-owners more money in legal fees, and does nothing to advance bird protection," a press release from the co-op said.

Power lines, streetlights and other utility facilities account for nearly 200 Newell's shearwater and Hawaiian petrel deaths each year, as the structures interfere with the seabirds' flight path from the mountains to the sea, according to studies supplied by KIUC.

In 2009, the co-op estimated some 87 Newell's shearwaters were killed by its power lines, including approximately 17 that were "breeding adults" with chicks that still required parental care.

KIUC also estimated that last year around 70 Newell's shearwaters were killed by light attraction from its streetlights and other facilities, as the birds become disoriented by the bright lights confusing them for the moon and fall to the ground unable to fly again.

Overall, Newell's shearwaters suffered a 75 percent decline between 1993 and 2008.

The utility said it has taken steps such as shielding thousands of streetlights, working with federal and state wildlife agencies and giving money to the Save Our Shearwaters program.