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Lawsuit seeks review of agribusiness operations in Hawaii

June 16, 2017 - 5:17pm

LIHUE, Kauai (AP) — A lawsuit alleges an agribusiness company broke Hawaii law by failing to conduct an environmental review before starting operations.

Community group Ke Kauhulu o Mana, Surfrider Foundation, Kohola Leo, and the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action filed the suit Tuesday against Syngenta Corporation, a Switzerland-based agribusiness that produces agrochemicals and seeds.

According to a Ke Kauhulu o Mana news release, the groups also list the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources as a defendant in the suit because it’s the state’s responsibility to ensure those leasing public lands abide by local regulations.

DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said the agency doesn’t comment on pending or outstanding litigation.

Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart said Syngenta received the complaint and is looking into the matter.

Syngenta works about 4,000 acres in Hawaii. The company announced in May it was selling its Hawaii operations to Wisconsin-based seed company Hartung Brothers, Inc., with an anticipated closing date by the end of this month.

Syngenta won’t be completely out of the picture. Part of the agreement includes Syngenta contracting current Hawaii-based seed production activities, The Garden Island reports ( ).

“The environmental and health impacts will remain similar regardless of the named entity conducting day-to-day operations,” according to the Ke Kauhulu o Mana news release.

Hawaii Revised Statutes requires an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement for any significant action on publicly owned, coastal and conservation zoned lands.

The legal action rests on the allegation Syngenta is doing industrial research, not conventional farming, and the law requires the public to be informed if there are any environmental impacts from their operations, according to a news release from Kohola Leo.

“The suit is being filed to ensure that sensitive, coastal and publicly-owned lands zoned for conservation are given the legally required environmental review prior to being leased out for private commercial use,” said Lance Collins, public interest attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Gary Hooser, president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, said there’s “no question” that the statute applies in the situation because the lands are public crown lands.

“My primary responsibility was administering HRS 343, the law governing environmental impact statements,” Hooser said. “The lands (in question) are public crown lands, zoned conservation and abutting the coast. A full EIS must be conducted.”

DLNR and Syngenta have 20 days from the Tuesday filing — or until July 3 — to respond to the complaint.

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