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1,800 cattle worries some neighbors

Some local residents and environmental groups are voicing concerns about Hawaii Dairy Farms, the $17.5 million dairy planned for Kauai’s South Shore.

Those concerns include the amount of daily waste produced and how it could impact the environment, as well as the potential odor and the dairy’s proximity to homes and businesses.

Others, however, including Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., say the operation could benefit the community and bring Kauai one step closer toward food sustainability.

A pair of informational meetings Thursday will provide an opportunity for the public to learn about the project and ask questions of representatives of the Ulupono Initiative, the organization behind the proposal.

The Hawaii-focused impact investment firm is financed by billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

The grass-fed dairy will be located on 582 acres in Mahaulepu, about 2.5 miles inland of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa in Poipu, and leased from Grove Farm. It will be modeled after the New Zealand pastoral dairy system.

“After several years of studying the benefits of the grass-fed model to offset the volatile cost of imported feed, we believe that forming Hawaii Dairy Farms is an important step toward revitalizing our local dairy industry,” Kyle Datta, general partner of the Ulupono Initiative, said in a release. “This is integral to our mission to increase affordable and sustainable local food production. We believe this dairy’s success could lead to additional grass-fed dairies statewide.”

The cattle will feed on a 70 percent kikuyu grass diet. The remainder will be supplemental feed.

The business could be in operation by 2015.

Manure, odor, water quality

Bridget Hammerquist, a retired attorney in Koloa with a background in biology, said she is very concerned about the large amount of waste that will be produced by the 1,800 head of Kiwi-cross cattle.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” she said.

A single dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of wet manure each day, equivalent to the waste of 20 to 40 humans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

With 1,800 head of cattle, that’s about 216,000 pounds of manure per day, or 371 pounds per acre per day. In one year, those cows could produce about 78.8 million pounds of fecal waste.

“It’s mind boggling,” Hammerquist said of the numbers. “The issue is the ability of that property to handle all that waste. And that doesn’t include urine.”

But Amy Hennessey, director of communications for the Ulupono Initiative, said the Kiwi-cross is a smaller breed of cow, which eat less and produce less waste — about 80 pounds per cow per day.

That equates to about 144,000 pounds of manure per day, or 247 pounds per acre per day.

Hammerquist argued that even the lower estimates of daily manure were alarming.

As for concerns about odor, Hennessey said she visited a number of similar dairies in New Zealand to check out the smell firsthand and was pleasantly surprised that she could not smell anything within 20 feet of the effluent ponds.

“We don’t believe there is going to be any drifting smell,” she said, adding that the company is still looking into additional measures to mitigate odor should it prove to be a problem.

Carl Berg, vice-chairman of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter, said Surfrider has major concerns that the manure could add nutrients to, and negatively impact, stream and ocean water quality.

“We see it as a potential environmental disaster,” he said.

Berg also questions what water quality monitoring, if any, will be done by the dairy and what would be the dairy’s back-up plan should something go wrong.

“It’s not enough to say you’re going to use best management practices and you’re going to monitor the environmental effects, if there’s no recourse if you do pollute the nearshore waters,” he said.

Hennessey said monitoring water quality is absolutely part of the plan. The dairy will install water quality sensors and conduct baseline testing outside the property to understand what the water quality is like prior to the dairy moving in.

“We don’t believe that there will be a problem,” she said.

Beryl Blaich, coordinator of Malama Mahaulepu, voiced similar concerns as Berg and said her main priority is protecting the groundwater, air quality, stream and ocean waters of Mahaulepu for future generations.

Good for Kauai’s future

While some foresee a potential disaster, others say the dairy could give Kauai’s agricultural sector a welcomed boost.

County spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said Mayor Carvalho was recently briefed on the project and feels it could come with many benefits, including using agricultural lands on Kauai for agricultural purposes, producing local food, creating jobs in the ag sector and fostering possible partnerships with local cattle ranchers.

“This is a great opportunity to work together and create a viable, sustainable ag operation that represents a big step forward toward food sustainability for Kauai,” Carvalho said in a statement.

Tokioka said the mayor, while recognizing that agriculture has and always will have negative impacts that must be mitigated, feels there is a sincere intent on the part of Ulupono to work with the community.

“(Carvalho) has encouraged them to do much more community outreach,” Tokioka said. “He has also talked to some concerned community members and he has encouraged them to express their concerns to Ulupono. As he always says, it’s important to deal with the emotional side of every issue first.”

Randy Francisco, president and CEO of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, said that, prior to touring the dairy site, he too was concerned about its location and potential odor impacts to nearby residents and visitors.

“Given the location, the mountain range and the topography … my concerns were addressed,” he wrote in a email. “Additional issues about noise created by the cows, I also concluded, were not a concern, again, because of the distance from the residential and resort areas.”

In the long run, Francisco said he believes the dairy, using state-of-the-art technology, will provide products beneficial for all consumers.  

“Potential value-added products I also think are other possibilities that will help contribute to increasing our Kauai Grown and Kauai Made products,” he wrote.

Diann Hartman, spokeswoman for the nearby Grand Hyatt, said she was able to meet with Ulupono representatives during a meeting last week and several questions were raised.

“We’re waiting to hear back on those before we have any real definitive comment,” she said.

What’s next?

As for permitting, Hawaii Dairy Farms is still in the process of obtaining several.

Although an Environmental Impact Statement is not required, Hennessey said the dairy has completed a conservation plan through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which was approved by the West Kauai Soil and Water Conservation District.

“This allowed us to start working with the Department of Health on obtaining our Animal Feed Operation (AFO) permit as well as the approval of our Concentrated Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) to ensure we’re in compliance with all regulatory requirements for the production of milk and management of waste,” she wrote in an email.

Additionally, Hawaii Dairy Farms is working with the county’s Planning Department on permits for the dairy’s milking parlor, calf shed and implement shed.

Hennessey said the model most people are familiar with in Hawaii is a Confined Animal Feed Operation, also known as a feedlot. Ulupono’s operation, however, is very different, she said, with the cows mainly consuming grass on pasture and rotating through multiple paddocks over a period of days to spread waste evenly.

“We don’t want to leave negative impact on the area,” she said. “We love the island as much as anyone, so we want to make sure our cows are happy and healthy, and that the community is happy and healthy.”

• Chris D’Angelo, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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