WAILUKU — Two environmental groups are suing Maui officials over plans to replace about 4,800 streetlights with LED fixtures, claiming the new lights would threaten seabirds and sea turtles.
Environmental law organization Earthjustice filed the lawsuit this week on behalf of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund and Conservation Council for Hawaii, The Maui News reported .
The lawsuit claims the Maui County Department of Public Works and others violated law by proceeding with the project without a legally mandated environmental review.
The groups have proposed using LED bulbs that filter out blue light because streetlights with a high blue light content can harm the animals. But the county has ignored the warnings and exempted the project from environmental review, according to the suit.
“Hawaii island already uses LED bulbs that filter out blue light, avoiding needless harm to seabirds and turtles,” said Kylie Wager Cruz, an attorney with Earthjustice. “It is extremely irresponsible, not to mention blatantly illegal, for the county to try to dodge the mandated environmental review process, which is designed to help the county find more environmentally responsible ways to get the job done.”
Bright lights can attract and disorient birds, like the endangered Hawaiian petrel and the threatened Newell’s shearwater, the groups said. The birds circle the lights until they fall, becoming vulnerable to predators and vehicles, they said.
Newly hatched critically endangered hawksbill and green sea turtles can be drawn to the lights, distracting them from reaching the ocean, the groups said.
“A single bright light can kill hundreds of turtle hatchlings,” said Hannah Bernard, executive director of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund. “Because hawksbills are so rare, we simply can’t afford to allow the streetlights project to skate by without any environmental review.”
County spokesman Brian Perry said officials are “unable to respond with any specificity to any of the allegations,” noting Wednesday that the county had not yet been served with the complaint.
“This replacement is being performed to provide greater energy efficiency and safety at a cost savings to our taxpayers and electric ratepayers,” Perry said. “In making these types of decisions, Maui County follows the environmental review process, as well as other applicable rules and laws.”