02 • 02 • 2021

Litigation Leads to Protections for Sharks Cove on Oahu

By Angela Howe

The final settlement agreement in the Save Sharks Cove Alliance v. Hanapohaku LLC and City and County of Honolulu was signed today.  The settlement secures clean water improvements, land use protections, and increased transparency, monitoring and reporting of site conditions for the commercial development site at issue, directly adjacent to the precious marine environment at Sharks Cove on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.  The settlement agreement also provides that the City will impose a substantial $30,000 fine against the Developer for violations of the Special Management Area law and initiate several reforms to the City’s permitting process.

The Save Sharks Cove Alliance, Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Surfrider Foundation and three individual named Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in January 2019 to protect the environmental and cultural resources of Sharks Cove, located on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.  Sharks Cove is a popular and heavily-visited part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District.  The beautiful Cove and Pupukea Beach Park are critical natural, cultural and recreational resources offering beach access and incomparable snorkeling and marine life appreciation opportunities. The Oahu Chapter joined the litigation in September 2019 to specifically focus on water quality at Sharks Cove due to concerns from runoff, polluted groundwater and litter brought by developer’s current activities on the site and the proposed increased development. 

The parties worked intensively on settlement negotiations for several weeks before submitting key terms to Hawaii First Circuit Court Judge Ashford In late December 2020.  The environmental plaintiffs fought for strong water quality improvements, and secured an enforceale schedule for the installation of a drainage system on site designed to comprehensively address stormwater concerns.  We also demanded immediate action to ensure no measurable identifiable pollutants in excess of legal limits will run off to the nearby marine environment from wastewater, stormwater, or groundwater associated with the development.  The Oahu Chapter is very thankful to their representative and water quality expert, Marvin Heskett, for his tireless work on the issue. 

“Shark’s Cove and the adjoining tidepools at Kapoo have been an important part of my family’s life since our son was born,” says Marvin Heskitt. “The tidepools especially, provide a safe environment for our youth to begin exploring the unique Hawaiian marine environment. Having witnessed brown water running into Kapoo during a rain event, I felt compelled to get involved and do what I could to help protect this invaluable and pristine coastal public resource.” 

 “On behalf of the community and the precious marine environment at Sharks Cove, the public interest organizations and individual plaintiffs in these two lawsuits are pleased to have reached an agreement that seeks to ensure that all laws are followed for any development activity on this site.  This has been our goal since day one,” stated Denise Antolini, President of Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea. “Although our community must continue to be vigilant to ensure that the agreement terms are followed by the Developer and the City, the settlement provides a strong foundation for community oversight for any owners or developers of that sensitive location, now and in the future.  We are grateful for the cooperation of everyone involved and that the legal system allows citizens to have a seat at the table in government decision-making that affects our public trust resources – in this case the sensitive ecosystem at Sharks Cove - and community’s rural sense of place and well-being.” 

Surfrider Foundation and the environmental plaintiffs look forward to implementation of the settlement agreement and continued stewardship of this amazing coastal resource for the protection and enhancement of the Sharks Cove marine ecosystem.