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Sides discuss ways to resolve Clean Water Act violation lawsuit

MAHA’ULEPU — Hawaii Dairy Farms and Friends of Maha’ulepu met Thursday on Oahu to discuss a settlement to a pending Clean Water Act violation lawsuit.

Friends of Maha’ulepu filed the Clean Water Act violation lawsuit against Hawaii Dairy Farms in June 2015, alleging the company’s 2014 preliminary construction caused high bacteria levels recorded in the Waiopili Stream.

The trial is set for Feb. 14.

The settlement conference, a mandated step of the litigation process, is a chance for the entities to come to an agreement on the case pending in federal court.

“It’s premature to make a comment about whether it’s (a settlement) a possibility,” said Bridget Hammerquist, with Friends of Maha’ulepu.

Amy Hennessey, HDF spokeswoman, said “Throughout this journey to bring fresh local milk to local families, Hawai‘i Dairy Farms has gone above and beyond what is required to address community concerns and prove that our pasture-based model is good for Kauai.

“Protecting the environment and public health has always been a top priority for us,” she said in a written statement. “While it is inappropriate for us to comment during pending litigation, we feel confident that we will prevail at trial. However, we have always been willing to try to resolve this amicably.”

The conversation revolves around 575 acres roughly two miles north of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, which is slated to be the site of a 699-head dairy.

Friends of Maha’ulepu alleges that ditch-widening construction on the site in 2014 could have triggered the chronically high levels of bacteria in the area’s water, reported steadily for several years by Surfrider Kauai Chapter’s Blue Water Task Force.

Hennessey said HDF did not widen ditches in 2014.

Those tests have revealed water with bacteria levels thousands of times higher than the federally allowed limit.

The state’s Department of Health has also recorded high levels of bacteria in the stream.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi furthered testing of the area in February with an order to bring in a panel of nationwide experts to scour the area for the source of the bacterial contamination.

The results of that study have not been released.

Penalties for violating the Clean Water Act can run into the millions of dollars in worst-case scenarios, and the settlement conference is just the first step on the road toward resolution of the litigation.

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