LIHU‘E — Although the county received $1.21 million almost two years ago to retrofit lights at four county parks — Isenberg Park, Vidinha Football Stadium, Hanapepe Stadium and Peter Rayno Park in Hanama‘ulu — the project has yet to commence, according to the County Attorney’s Office.
“Due to changes in scope and design, state and county monies were reappropriated in this past year’s capital improvements budget for light shielding,” the office said in a statement.
The project was intended to help minimize the impact to critically imperiled seabirds like the Newell’s shearwater (a‘o), Hawaiian petrel (‘ua‘u) and band-rumped storm-petrel (‘ake‘ake).
From September through December, Hawai‘i’s young, native seabirds are guided by the soft glow of the moon during their first journeys from the mountains to the sea. However, bright lights, like those emanating from the ball parks, disorient the birds who eventually end up circling and collapsing from fatigue.
“We really appreciate they were able to make this move,” said Earthjustice staff attorney David Henkin.
However, changing the entire fall sports season schedule might not have been necessary had the county already acquired an Incidental Take License.
The license — which has been requested by federal and state agencies for years — would allow a certain amount of seabird takes each season, he said. In addition, a correlated Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan would ensure every effort was being made by the county to assist in the birds’ survival, such as retrofitting lights.
It is a “mechanism to allow someone like the county to operate even at night,” Henkin said.
Other methods, as opposed to re-scheduling sports, have also been suggested to the county for a number of years, including clean-up occurring the following day as opposed to after Friday night football games so lights could be turned off as promptly as possible, he added.
“In the short-term, they made the decision to change the schedule,” he said.
The county Department of Parks and Recreation is almost at the point of awarding the contract for retrofitting lights at six facilities across the island by next year’s fall sports season, county officials said.
But even with proper shielding — which would only minimally reduce the birds’ attraction to the lights some 15 to 40 percent— unless the county “really engages” in obtaining a permit, the new sports schedule could remain, Henkin said.
“If there is political will,” there would be a way to work around this, he said.
“The county will continue to work with the regulatory agencies to find a solution that balances the tradition of our community and the protection of the birds, while taking into account the serious nature of the legal issues surrounding county facility lighting and shearwaters,” county attorneys said in a written statement.
Vidinha Stadium is currently undergoing renovations which do not include retrofitting the lights, according to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Approximately $400,000 is being spent on various repairs like deteriorated railings, bleachers and restrooms.
When asked why public hearings were not held regarding fall sports re-scheduling, the county said the change “has been contemplated and discussed publicly for several years now.”
“Discussions between the county and Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation for the 2010 season have been ongoing for several weeks,” county officials said. “Every alternative along with its risks and liabilities had to be considered. When that fact-finding and discussion was complete the announcement was made.”
One thing is for sure: disliking the birds for this situation is like “hating the pedestrian for hitting the bus,” Henkin said.
Living in harmony with the natural world and respecting the island’s environment is critical to the survival of the native species which arrived on the Hawaiian islands long before mankind, he said.
The core of the species’ habitat remains only on Kaua‘i, he said. They are a part of the web of island life, including assisting native Hawaiians in finding fish.
“There are ways to work it out so the activities people want to have will happen,” Henkin said. “There are ways to peacefully coexist with the birds.”
The population of Hawaiian Newell’s shearwaters alone has declined some 75 percent since the mid-1990s.
The county is responsible for around 10 percent of seabird deaths on island, according to statistics from Save Our Shearwaters.
SOS studies have documented some 19 birds gathered at various county ball parks and stadiums in 2007 and around 20 in 2006.
The fine for each seabird take is $10,000.
• Coco Zickos, business and environmental writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or firstname.lastname@example.org.