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Group sours on dairy

LIHUE — A group of biologists and local residents are calling for the County of Kauai to reconsider allowing Hawaii Dairy Farms to move forward with its proposed $17.5 million, 582-acre dairy in Mahaulepu.

“We, the undersigned, believe that HDF has amply demonstrated their disregard for the environment, willingness to play fast and loose with their facts, such that they cannot be entrusted with so precious an area,” Koloa resident Bridget Hammerquist and 14 others wrote in an April 3 letter to Larry Dill, chief engineer of the county Public Works Department.

The group says it is “imperative” that the county step in and reconsider any decisions it has made or exemptions it has granted to HDF.

They accuse HDF of starting construction without securing proper state permits, understating rainfall records, thus indicating a lower risk of waste runoff than actually exists, incorrectly reporting the site’s soil type and its ability to handle waste and nutrient loads, and failing to include hydrological or drainage studies which confirm drainage in the area runs directly to the ocean.

“We need to act, before irreparable harm occurs,” states the letter.

In an email Tuesday, county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka said Dill was “working on a response to the various questions posed in the letter.” However, Dill’s response had not been finalized by press time Thursday.

Amy Hennessey, HDF’s director of communications, said it was disheartening to hear that the group feels HDF is not doing what is right for the project and the community, and that the company never went outside of its permitting.

“We don’t want to do something that’s harmful,” she said. “Some of the assumptions that are made in this letter are based on just that — assumptions. They don’t have all of the information, so they’re extrapolating things from this to create a picture of inadequacy.”

Among the signatures on the six-page letter are Dr. Robert Zelkovsky and Dr. Carl Berg of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter and Don Heacock, a fisheries biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Berg said those who signed the letter support having a dairy farm, but not in Mahaulepu.

“It’s just the location, really,” he said. “If we didn’t have to worry about everything running into the ocean, Surfrider wouldn’t care.”

The group asserts that HDF has not been truthful with the community and is gambling with the environmental health of the land, coral reefs and the entire ecosystem, as well as the health of residents and visitors in and around Poipu.

Hennessey, however, said the idea that the dairy will lead to a flood of manure downhill and into the ocean is simply incorrect.

“Basically what they are saying is it’s like poop on a parking lot, and that’s not the case,” she said, adding that the nutrient-rich waste from the cows is essential to maintaining the amount of grass needed to feed the animals.

As for the group’s charge in the letter that HDF’s plan was never given a thorough review by the West Kauai Soil and Water Conservation District, Hennessey called it “perplexing.”

The group is also requesting that the WKSWCD reconsider its approval of HDF’s Conservation Management Plan and its accompanying Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan.

“As detailed herein,” the letter reads, “ the severity of the HDF ‘Plan’ errors and omissions should clearly invalidate any approval/exemption extended to HDF. They did not include the information they should have. They understated or underreported facts that were easily accessible and which, when disclosed, makes it clear that there will be significant environmental damage done to Mahaulepu Valley and the protected wildlife that live there.”

“(The plan) is clearly deserving of a careful review, no matter how much money has already been invested in the area.”

Hennessey said it is important for the public to remember that the farm is not in operation, and that HDF is doing everything it can to be a good community partner and address concerns.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said.

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