Conservation groups sue DOT over endangered bird deaths

Published: Aug. 24, 2017 at 12:23 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 24, 2017 at 10:52 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Conservation groups are suing the state Department of Transportation because they say bright lighting at state-operated airports and harbors are causing the deaths and injuries of endangered birds.

The groups, represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, say the state's failure to protect the native seabirds from harmful operations at its Kauai, Maui and Lanai facilities violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit says the seabirds are attracted to bright lights like the ones at the state's facilities, and that they become disoriented, causing them to crash into buildings or fall to the ground.

"The tragic deaths of these endangered seabirds were preventable," said Brian Segee, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. "The Department of Transportation can't keep ignoring the Endangered Species Act. The department needs to do right by these amazing birds and improve conditions on the ground to offset the real harm caused over the years by these very bright lights."

In response, the DOT says their facilities don't violate any environmental regulations.

In a statement released Wednesday, a DOT spokesman said all of the DOT facilities are in compliance with environmental rules, and they are committed to protecting wildlife.

"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," the DOT said.

The DOT said they've made efforts to install energy-efficient lighting to minimize harm to animals, and even relocated Nene away from airports.

No specific details of the lawsuit or allegations were released.

In June, Hawaii News Now first reported a lawsuit against the state by three environmental groups after the deaths of Newell's Shearwaters, Hawaiian petrels and band-rumped storm petrels.

The groups also allege the state was aware about the potential impacts the lights would have on the animals.

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