State continues to pursue damages for Matson molasses spill

State continues to pursue damages for Matson molasses spill
Updated: Mar. 9, 2015 at 7:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Even though it paid $1 million dollars to settle federal criminal charges over one of the Hawaii's worst-ever environmental spills, Matson Inc. still faces a state civil investigation into damages to coral and other natural resources.

And the tab will likely be much higher than the criminal case.

"When you're talking about natural resource damage to coral reefs, which take a long time to recover, you are talking about big ticket items," said David Henkin, staff attorney for EarthJustice.

One estimate by Barron's magazine pegged the environmental costs at around $400 million but the true costs are likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars, based on recent case history.

One example: the grounding of the U.S.S. Port Royal off the Honolulu airport in 2009. More than 5,000 coral colonies were damaged and the Navy eventually paid $8.5 million in penalties in 2011.

That's on top of $6 million that the Navy spent attempting to repair the reef.

And then there's the case of retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger on Kauai.

Even before the the Kaloko Dam disaster, Pflueger was fined $4 million after illegal grading on his land destroyed much of the reef at Pilaa.

In the Matson molasses spill probe, sources estimate that thousands of colonies were damaged. Scientists say it takes a while before coral beds can recover.

"If the coral have great mortality, it's going to take a decade .... If (the water remains) polluted or there's sediment, it could take a lot longer," said retired University of Hawaii marine biologist Charles Birkeland.

Matson said it is cooperating with the state but declined comment.

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