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Disquiet over dairy drags on

LIHUE — Hawaii Dairy Farms’ revised plan for 578 acres in Mahaulepu continues to cause a stink for one South Shore resort and a number of local residents.

In response to HDF’s revised Waste Management Plan (dated July 23 and prepared by Group 70 International), Lisa Woods Munger, an attorney representing Kawailoa Development, LLP in a lawsuit against HDF, wrote to the Sina Pruder, chief of the Department of Health’s Wastewater Branch, urging her to reject it.

Munger said HDF’s plan contains “incomplete, inconsistent and contradictory information,” and fails to address significant issues that have a direct impact on the environment of the Mahaulepu area, including wells and groundwater.

“Hawaii Dairy Farms does not come close to meeting its burden of demonstrating that no pollution or harmful environmental degradation will occur,” she wrote. “The plan should therefore be rejected by the Department.”

Kawailoa owns the nearby Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa and the Poipu Bay Golf Course.

DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the department is currently reviewing the farm’s revised plan, and that once that process is completed, it would sign off on the building permit. She added that it is too early in the process to estimate a timetable for approvals.

Echoing previous statements, HDF spokeswoman Amy Hennessey said it is unfortunate that members of the community continue to second-guess the ongoing regulatory process, which includes experts at the federal, state and county levels reviewing the diary’s draft plan.

HDF says arguments against the dairy are about creating a development buffer zone that requires significant separation of agriculture from resorts and housing.

“It is important that all parties respect the regulatory process and peer-reviewed science, rather than assume that inaccurate statements from ‘so-called’ experts hired by Kawailoa are the unbiased truth,” she wrote.

Hennessey was referring to eight pages worth of remarks made by Mark Madison, an agricultural engineer and senior project manager with CH2M HILL in Honolulu, that accompanied Munger’s letter.

Madison’s concerns are lengthy, from the number of animals and total acreage, to precipitation and soil types. He references a Custom Soil Resource Report for the area prepared by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which he says is “much more detailed” than the general information HDF presents in its plan.

“The proposed dairy operation is situated on soils that are very limiting for land application of animal waste,” he wrote. “An intensive animal waste management program for 699 cows on this site should not be allowed. A waste management program on this site will likely result in contamination of groundwater that is extracted by community wells within the aquifer recharged by the farm. Surface runoff from this site will contain manure contaminants that will be conveyed to streams, wetlands and coastal waters.”

Starting with phases

In July, in light of public outcry, HDF officials announced it would gradually phase in its operations over several months, beginning with between 650 and 699 cows and eventually reaching the initial 2,000.

Hennessey said the stocking rate of 699 cows in the revised plan is comparable to cattle ranching that was formerly at the Mahaulepu site as recently as 2013.

“As we’ve previously stated, the plan for the farm is zero-discharge, with grass as the primary source of feed,” she wrote. “This means that all nutrients produced on the farm will stay on the farm as fertilizer to help regenerate the soil’s health and grow the grass as feed. In fact, the volume of manure produced by the smaller number of cows will only provide about 20 percent of the nutrients needed for the grass to grow, so we will supplement with fertilizer until the soil quality improves over time.”

Devil in the details

Koloa resident Bridget Hammerquist, an outspoken opponent of HDF’s plan and member of local group Friends of Mahaulepu, doesn’t believe it. She says the diary’s quest for profit should not be allowed to trump concerns about health.

“The proposed industrial-scale dairy operation at Mahaulepu is a disaster in the making,” she wrote in an email. “If allowed to proceed the consequences would be horrendous.”

Like Madison, Hammerquist’s concerns are numerous and varied — manure loads, soil types, nearby wells.

As an example of what she describes as HDF’s lack of transparency and looseness with facts, Hammerquist pointed out a sentence in the revised plan discussing ideal growing conditions for Kikuyu grass, which the dairy plans to grow on the property as feed for the cows.

“The average local temperature is in the ideal 60 to 104 (degrees Fahrenheit) range for Kikuyu,” the revised plan reads. The original plan, however, features the exact same sentence except the ideal temperature is listed as between 43 and 70 degrees.

“They just changed the sentence describing the temperature range in the most recent text to read 60-104 degrees as being the ideal for Kikuyu,” Hammerquist wrote. “There is no mention of the basis for changing the ideal temperature range for Kikuyu. Which statement is truthful, if either?”

Hennessey said the original temperature range was a “typo that was fixed as part of the review process between documents.”

Then there are the nearby sources of drinking water, Koloa wells F and C. While HDF’s new plan says the nearest well is over one-half mile from the dairy facility site, a map included in the plan puts it approximately 750 feet from the proposed dairy boundary.

“Without mention of the proximity to the dairy farm itself, it is disingenuous to imply, as Hawaii Dairy Farms (’HDF’) has done, that the community drinking water wells will not be subject to contamination,” Munger wrote in her letter.

Hennessey said it is “deeply disappointing” that Kawailoa continues to divide the community by using fear-filled comments from outsiders to cast doubt on grass-fed dairying and dissuade support for HDF.

“The implication that our farm will impact drinking water is entirely unfounded,” she wrote. “Water quality management is an important part of the plans for the dairy. We will be implementing a water quality-monitoring plan to help the farm be protective of the environment.”

As for the wells, Hennessey said the measurements are based on the distance from the effluent ponds to the well — not the perimeter of the farm — as required by regulators.

“The Department of Health has jurisdiction over the protection of the wells and we continue to work with them on the required plans to guarantee compliance,” she wrote. “Our plan has been designed to be protective because we believe in sustainable farming that is good for the environment, the community and the economy.”

Getting approval

Kawailoa filed suit against HDF in 5th Circuit Court July 10, claiming its business, recreational, environmental and aesthetic interests would be adversely affected should the 1,800-cow dairy move into the neighborhood. It says the harm could be avoided if HDF completes an environmental assessment.

Munger said that while the revised plan purports to be the first phase, it actually seeks approval of the same facilities that will be used in Phase 2, meaning all of the buildings, ponds, wastewater systems, pastures and irrigation systems are the same.

“As approval is sought for full build-out, the impacts of the dairy at full build-out must be studied now,” she wrote.

Hennessey, who has called the lawsuit an “insidious attack on local food,” said that if development cannot coexist with agriculture, Kauai’s farmers, local food industry and, ultimately, families will be the “victims of unfettered growth.”

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Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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