Complaint Asks for Funds to Clean Up Hazardous Substances from Sugar Farm’s Chemicals

A complaint filed by the United States on Monday in the District of Hawaii against Kaanapali Land LLC and its bankrupt subsidiary Oahu Sugar Company LLC alleged that the companies should be responsible for paying for governmental response costs to the release of hazardous substances and damages for a loss of natural resources at its herbicide mixing facility. 

The defendants’ 3.5 acre facility is part of the Pearl Harbor Naval Complex Superfund Site in Hawaii, according to the complaint. The lawsuit was reportedly filed at the request of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Interior (DOI), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). 

Oahu Sugar Company filed a petition for liquidation in April 2005, and its bankruptcy proceeding was closed in December 2019, the complaint explained. The entity is owned by Illinois-based Kaanapali Land. According to the United States, Oahu Sugar leased both the site and other Navy lands for growing sugar cane, from about 1902 to the 1980s. The specific site was used to store, mix, and load pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which were applied using aircraft. 

In May 1997, the Hawaii Department of Health took a sample of the soil at the mixing plant and found that the soil had high concentrations of dioxin congeners, sometimes as high as 1,530 parts per billion. Shortly after the EPA issued an order requiring New Oahu Sugar to investigate the contamination, it filed for bankruptcy. Another order in 2009 asked Kaanapali Land to investigate the site, and the company has been responding to the EPA’s order. 

The plaintiff alleged that the release of hazardous substances from the site has caused destruction of natural resources both in and around it, including “losses of services from the vegetative community and other terrestrial resources.” Various government organizations have taken action to assess the damage to the land and water and have incurred costs responding to the substances. The Navy, DOI, and NOAA were appointed to be a natural resource trustee and found that there had been injury to both terrestrial and aquatic resources due to the actions of the defendants. 

In the complaint, the United States, represented by the Department of Justice, asked for cost recovery, injunctive relief, and natural resource damages citing various sections of CERCLA.