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Oregon lawyer to assist in dairy dispute

LIHUE — An Oregon-based environmental attorney who successfully represented a community group in Washington state in a lawsuit against an industrial dairy in Yakima Valley has agreed to represent Friends of Mahaulepu in its fight to stop the dairy proposed for Kauai’s Southside.

“The damage that can be done by a facility of the size proposed is irreparable,” said attorney Charlie Tebbutt. “And in order to be smart we need to make sure that no irreparable harm is cause to Kauai’s sensitive and beautiful environment.”

In January, U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice of Spokane ruled that Cow Palace, a more than 11,000-cow dairy in Yakima County, polluted groundwater through its application, storage and management of manure, posing an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to the environment and to people who drink the water.

In that case, Tebbutt represented the Granger-based Community Association for Restoration of the Environment. A trial has been scheduled for March 23 to decide the extent of contamination and what steps should be taken as a remedy.

On Kauai, Hawaii Dairy Farms, a company backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Ulupono Initiative, is planning to build a $17.5 million, 578-acre dairy in Mahaulepu Valley.

Tebbutt said HDF’s proposal is too much for the island to handle.

“An honest (Environmental Impact Statement) will show the multiple problems that a proposal of this size causes, and hopefully, by going through this process, HDF will realize the errors of its ways,” he said. 

In light of public concern surrounding the project, HDF agreed in November to move forward with a voluntary EIS — one demand in a complaint filed by Kawailoa Development, LLP.

Kawailoa, owner of the nearby Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa and the Poipu Bay Golf Course, filed suit against HDF in 5th Circuit Court July 10, claiming its business, recreational, environmental and aesthetic interests would be adversely affected should the dairy move into the neighborhood.

Friends of Mahaulepu group member Bridget Hammerquist said she is excited to have Tebbutt on board and that he will be working alongside Hawaii-based attorney Linda Paul. 

“He knows firsthand the negative and devastating environmental impacts large-scale, industrial dairies cause,” she said. 

She added that, like the Friends group, Tebbutt hopes to avoid litigation. However, he is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the environment of Mahaulepu, she said.

Unlike communities in Yakima Valley, Tebbutt said Kauai has a chance to stop a problem before it starts — and should do it.

“Friends of Mahaulepu is interested in a resolution of this issue that will continue to protect the sensitivity and beauty of Kauai,” he said. “It’s a rare treasure that needs constant vigilance to protect it properly.”

Cow Palace is home to more than 11,000 cows, which produce more than 100 million gallons of manure annually, according to the recent ruling. Comparatively, HDF plans to gradually phase in its operations over several months, beginning with 699 cows and potentially reaching 2,000. 

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. The initial herd of 699 cows would produce about 84,000 pounds of manure per day, or about 30.6 million pounds of fecal waste annually.

In previous statements, HDF spokeswoman Amy Hennessey said a conventional feedlot dairy farm like Cow Palace is completely different from HDF’s planned grass-based farm, and encouraged those with concerns to participate in the EIS process.

“We welcome the addition of someone who is experienced in reviewing dairies, because we are voluntarily preparing an Environmental Impact Statement which we believe will prove that our grass-fed approach is environmentally protective,” she said. “We look forward to continuing the conversation with the community throughout the EIS process so that we can once and for all address questions with facts and correct the misinformation that is creating fear.”

Hawaii Dairy Farms will host a community briefing and open house on Feb. 19 to discuss the recently published Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice for its proposed dairy. The meeting is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Koloa Elementary School cafeteria.

The public comment period ends Feb. 23. The EISPN is available at www.hawaiidairyfarms.com/eis, or from the State Office of Environmental Quality Control.

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