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Newell's shearwater
The Maui News, September 27, 2011

Groups drop suit against Kauai utility
Power company is taking steps to protect threatened seabirds

By Audrey McAvoy, The Associated Press

HONOLULU - Conservation groups on Monday dropped a federal lawsuit they filed against Kauai's electric utility after deciding the company is taking important steps to protect threatened seabirds.

The groups sued the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in March of last year, alleging it violated the Endangered Species Act by refusing to implement measures to protect Hawaiian petrels and Newell's shearwaters colliding with power lines.

In the 18 months since, the utility has agreed to lower power lines in areas where the most birds have been killed and injured, said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice representing the four conservation groups.

It's also agreed to spend $400,000 a year to help restore habitat for Newell's shearwaters on Kauai's north shore.

"We went to court because KIUC refused to take responsibility for killing and injuring nearly 200 Newell's Shearwaters each year, threatening this native seabird with extinction," Makaala Kaaumoana of Hui Hoomalu I Ka Aina, one of the plaintiff groups, said in a statement. "Now that the utility is finally taking necessary steps to help the birds, we've accomplished what we set out to do."

The utility welcomed the development.

"We are encouraged our efforts toward the protection and preservation of endangered seabirds have been recognized," Carey Koide, the company's support services manager, said in a statement.

The other three plaintiffs are the Conservation Council for Hawaii, the Center for Biological Diversity and the American Bird Conservancy.

The first power lines to be lowered so the birds won't run into them are in Kealia on Kauai's eastern shore and Hanapepe on the island's southern coast.

The parties sued after what they described as a decade of lip service and no action from the utility.

A few months after the lawsuit was filed, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against the company and won a 19-count indictment alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act and The Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The utility settled the case last December after pleading guilty to two counts.

Kauai's Newell's shearwater population, a threatened species, has plunged 75 percent over the past 15 years or so.

In addition to power lines, the seabirds have also been harmed by bright lights, which confuse fledglings attempting to migrate from their mountain nests.

The birds use the light of the moon and stars to guide them to sea and thus can become confused by artificial lights shining on athletic fields, retail parking lots, hotels and other places. Some fly circles around the artificial lights until they fall to the ground exhausted.

Kauai's high schools have canceled most of their nighttime football games because the bright lights used at stadiums have harmed the birds.

The Maui News © 2011.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton