Group steps up efforts to stop dairy

POIPU — Friends of Mahaulepu has launched a signature drive in hopes that newly elected Gov. David Ige will take notice of community concerns surrounding Hawaii Dairy Farms’ proposed dairy in Mahaulepu.

“We have a big problem on Kauai,” FOM writes in its petition. “Our letters to Gov. (Neil) Abercrombie remain unanswered.”

The signature drive, which kicked off during an event New Year’s Eve at Poipu Beach Park, comes one month after HDF was awarded building permits for its proposed $17.5 million, 578-acre dairy in the Mahaulepu Valley and agreed to conduct a voluntary Environmental Impact Statement in response to public outcry.

FOM group member Bridget Hammerquist said she is happy HDF has agreed to move forward with an EIS. She said a true study will only confirm the validity of the concerns.

“I have to hope,” she said Wednesday of whether she expects a response from Ige. “At some level, someone is going to sit up and take notice before irreparable harm is done.”

FOM plans to deliver the signatures to the governor later this month. Hammerquist said she is shooting for at least 1,000.

Among those who signed Wednesday was Oregon resident Jeff Griffin, who spent the previous day exploring Mahaulepu Beach with his wife and two sons.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s the best beach we’ve found here. It’s gorgeous.”

Griffin was walking by the group’s setup when he noticed a picture of the area he and his family had visited the day before. After reading through the letter, Griffin said he found the dairy proposal to be a terrible idea and that money and resources should be spent on more sustainable endeavors.

“Do it somewhere else,” he said. “Find another location that doesn’t have all those natural, cultural resources. They’re put to risk with that facility.”

In addition to outlining potential environmental threats and the cultural significance of the area, the two paragraph petition addresses Hawaii’s Public Trust Doctrine and the responsibility of public officials to preserve state resources — specifically water — for present and future generations.

As part of its lease with HDF, landowner Grove Farm Company has agree to provide the dairy with water from the Waita Reservoir. However, FOM argues that water belongs to the people of Kauai and that Grove Farm has no right to promise it as part of the lease.

“It’s not really theirs to sell,” Hammerquist said of the water from Waita. “And I think the Supreme Court decided that in the Kauai Springs case rather clearly.”

In February, the state Supreme Court sided with the County of Kauai by striking down a 2008 Circuit Court ruling that the Kauai Planning Commission “exceeded its jurisdiction” in denying Kauai Springs, Inc., a Koloa-based water bottling and distribution company, permits for its operation. It has been called a landmark decision for Hawaii’s Public Trust Doctrine.

In an email Tuesday, Grove Farm spokeswoman Marissa Sandblom said Waita Reservoir was built over a century ago to allow Koloa Plantation to expand sugar cultivation to dry lands at Pa’a and Weliweli. Recognizing that the Koloa area did not have its own rich water resources, Waita was developed to support agriculture in the region and was completed in 1906, she said.

“Grove Farm has maintained its water systems for many decades,” Sandblom wrote. “As a result, Waita Reservoir continues to serve numerous farming tenants in the region, such as the Haraguchi taro farm, as well as the Poipu Bay Golf Course and the Makauwahi Cave Reserve.”

As for the group’s petition drive, Sandblom said the Poipu Beach Resort Association spent a lot of time organizing the New Year’s Eve festivities taking place the same night at the same park and that it was “unfortunate that an activist group seems to be trying to use it for their own means.”

“Families are expecting to enjoy a fun and relaxing event to help ring in the New Year and we are hopeful that people will respect that,” she wrote.

Hawaii Dairy Farms did not respond to The Garden Island’s request for comment.

Hammerquist said the latest drive is separate from the group’s online petition in opposition of the dairy, which has garnered over 600 signatures. The idea, she said, is to step up the ongoing effort.

“We’re trying. We’re trying to be heard,” she said. “We don’t want to be the little island in the north that becomes their waste dump for a product that they make here and take elsewhere and leave the waste behind.”

California resident Benjamin Orozco also signed the petition.

“These people are trying to help preserve what’s left of the island,” he said. “It’s a good cause, because it’s a pretty island still.”

In its letter, FOM is asking Ige to protect and preserve the waters integral to Native Hawaiian customs — limu gathering, sustenance fishing and more — and to care for the historic site. 

“HDF must not be permitted to operate a dairy in Mahaulepu,” the group wrote. 

HDF is working with Honolulu-based Group 70 International on the EIS process, the same firm that’s been helping HDF with its plans for the farm. The process is expected to take between six and nine months, according to Hennessey. Once complete, HDF will submit the study to DOH for approval.

In July, the same month that Kawailoa Development, LLP, owner of the nearby Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa and the Poipu Bay Golf Course, filed suit against HDF in 5th Circuit Court, the dairy 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.

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

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