Doubling down on the dairy

LIHUE — A retired Kauai resident has pledged to match up to $100,000 in donations to pay for attorney fees and hire experts in Friends of Mahaulepu’s ongoing effort to stop a proposed dairy on Kauai’s south side.

“My whole goal is to protect the aina and the ocean for today’s and tomorrow’s children of Hawaii. They don’t have a voice in this matter,” Jay Kechloian said. “We feel this is disastrous to the whole South Shore. I feel someone has to step up to the plate to protect Mahaulepu and the South Shore.”

On Sunday, Kechloian, an FOM member and Koloa resident, sent out an email outlining his intention to match every donation to the group — dollar for dollar, up to $100,000 — through May 1. By Tuesday afternoon, the group had received $6,000 in donations, or $12,000 with Kechloian’s match.

“I believe it’s not only possible,” he said of reaching the goal. “I believe it will happen.”

Friends of Mahaulepu, an outspoken opponent of Hawaii Dairy Farms’ proposed $17.5 million, 578-acre dairy in Mahaulepu Valley, says it expects to spend $250,000 through the entire Environmental Impact Statement process.

In November, HDF, a company backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Ulupono Initiative, agreed to conduct a voluntarily EIS in light of public concern surrounding the project. On Feb. 19, HDF hosted a community briefing and open house in Koloa to discuss its recently published EIS Preparation Notice.

HDF spokeswoman Amy Hennessey said her company appreciates the community’s continued participation in the EIS process.

“We trust our expert consultants to do their jobs and address the concerns we have heard, both from the meeting on Feb. 19 and the formal comments that were received in response to the EISPN,” she said in a statement. “Anyone willing to conduct his or her own separate evaluation of the potential project impacts may submit these during the Draft EIS comment period. We appreciate the critical review.”

By hiring attorneys and expert witnesses, which the raised money will help fund, FOM believes it will be able to prove that the dairy will not work at the proposed site in Mahaulepu Valley, according to Kechloian.

Like others, Kechloian’s concerns range from the potential odor and impacts to drinking water to biting flies, air and water quality, and what the dairy could mean for property values in and around Poipu and Koloa. He and his wife live about two miles from the proposed dairy farm.

“We don’t see any upside anywhere in this industrial dairy,” said Kechloian, a retired builder and developer from Seattle.

Last month, Oregon-based environmental attorney Charlie Tebbutt, who successfully represented a community group in Washington state in a lawsuit against an industrial dairy in Yakima Valley, agreed to represent FOM in its fight against HDF.

Opponents have also criticized HDF for hiring Group 70 International, Inc., the same Honolulu-based planning and engineering firm that developed the dairy plan, to conduct an EIS for the project. FOM believes the move is HDF trying to rubber stamp the existing plan and secure a finding of no significant impact.

Hennessey did not respond to a request for comment about HDF’s choice in Group 70.

FOM member Bridget Hammerquist, who helped lead a petition drive agains the dairy, applauded Kechloian for stepping up to the plate.

“Talk about putting your money where your mouth is,” she said.

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