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A herd of concerns

KOLOA — Tense at times.

Voices were raised, accusations were made and audible tete-a-tetes between public testifiers, audience members and company representatives were exchanged during Thursday’s meeting on a proposal by Hawaii Dairy Farms to develop a 582-acre dairy operation in Mahaulepu.

“I want to remind people that we really would like to have this discussion in the spirit of aloha and be respectful,” Malama Mahaulepu Board President Suzanne Kashiwaeda said halfway through the meeting, which was attended by about 70 residents at the Koloa Neighborhood Center. “There’s so many of you with such great questions and we really want to make sure we get those questions answered.”

For nearly an hour, representatives from Hawaii Dairy Farms and Ulupono Initative, a for-profit, Honolulu-based impact investment firm that’s financing the project, fielded dozens of concerns, ranging from smell mitigation to soil runoff.

“Folks in the room, this is not a project that we’re trying to hurt anybody with,” Jim Garmatz, farm manager for Hawaii Dairy Farms, said. “If there’s anybody that feels that way, you’re wrong and I can’t say that any better. We’re trying to make this place the top-of-the-line, top-of-the-credit type of facility that it can be so we can deal with situations like these.”

Poipu resident Kathy Sheffield said she lives three miles away from the project and questioned the motives behind it.

“This is a commercial agricultural project, and so, therefore, are they doing it for the money or really because they care about the kids on Kauai getting fresh milk,” Sheffield said. “It just doesn’t seem logical to me to bring a herd of cow from Washington state across the ocean. You haven’t made any connections yet to process your milk or to be taken off-island to be processed and then brought back fresh for the kids, so isn’t it the same thing as bringing in milk from the Mainland to begin with?”

Although a solid plan for processing the milk has not been finalized yet, Ulupono Initiative Communications Director Amy Hennessey said milk produced and processed in the state will be fresher than those imported from the Mainland.  

The 3.7 million gallons of milk produced and available for sale, she said, is projected to be more than double the current milk consumption rate on Kauai.

Milk from the farm that is not sold on Kauai, according to current plans, will be shipped to outer islands but will not be sent out of Hawaii.

“We definitely want to get fresher, local milk into the hands of our kids, as well as the rest of us, because it is better for our health and just better overall,” Hennessey said.

Denese Wojcik said her biggest concern is about the environmental impact of the dairy.

“I don’t think they have fully addressed it yet,” Wojcik said.

The Poipu resident said she would feel much better if the company completes a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants, through the state Department of Health.

“It’s concerning that we’re this far along and they haven’t thought of doing that themselves without everybody here screaming and carrying on,” Wojcik said.

Hennessey said the farm is not required to have an NPDES permit but explained that company officials are considering one as “a good neighbor effort.”

Under current plans, 8 percent of all cow waste on the property, collected during the milking process, is captured and then heavily diluted with water, creating an organic fertilizer.

To further mitigate the smell, Garmatz said Hawaii Dairy Farms officials may seek to cover the effluent ponds.

Koloa resident David Hibbitt said he has not decided how he feels about the dairy and explained he would like to hear more about the dairy’s emergency plans.

“They’ve talked about the best case scenario about what they’d like to happen but that’s just one side of the envelope,” Hibbitt said. “I’d like to hear the worst case scenario, the worst side of the envelope, and we can figure out what’s in between. People touch on those subjects, but … you can’t study everything — we pretend to know everything but there’s stuff that’s going to happen that we don’t know yet.”

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