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Learn from dairy on the Big Island

Kauai is not alone when it comes to dairy controversy.

The problems that some are worried about here if Hawaii Dairy Farm opens a dairy in the Mahaulepu Valley are surfacing on the Big Island with Big Island Dairy, a commercial dairy farm on about 2,500 acres near the community of Ookala.

A public meeting was held there recently to discuss concerns about the runoff that flows into the community in the wake of heavy storms.

Some are blaming Big Island Dairy for allegedly letting wastewater, described as brown, yucky, foamy and smelly, from the farm run into gulches that flow past the community.

Dairy management, though, says it has already taken action to reduce the possibility of discharging any waste from the dairy into waterways, such as construction of a barrier on the downgrade border of the property. They also point to state agency investigations and reports that found “no definitive evidence that Big Island Dairy discharged wastewater from its lagoon system.”

“Part of our mission statement is to maintain a clean and healthy environment, and to be a credit to the community,” said general manager Brad Duff. “We try to be as good as neighbors as possible.”

There are similarities between the situation on the Big Island and the one on Kauai with HDF.

In both cases, we have people concerned the dairy could harm the environment, while dairy officials say their operations will be safe for the environment, that precautions have been taken, and science supports them.

On Feb. 27, the state’s Department of Health Clean Water Branch wrote to the manager of Big Island Dairy, saying that while there was no definitive evidence of the dairy putting out wastewater from its lagoon system, inspectors found a high potential for that to happen if its capacity is exceeded.

And if that happens without a permit, those discharges would be considered illegal, inspectors stated. Discharging pollutants, the document adds, carries a penalty of up to $25,000 per day per violation.

There is a bit of back-and-forth over who’s responsible for the wastewater. Dairy officials are adamant their operations are not the source of the problem. Some in the community are not so sure.

The dairy proposed for Kauai could start at about 700 cows and, perhaps, eventually, reaching as high as 2,000 on a 557-acre site. Friends of Mahaulepu has led the fight against the dairy, not just in public relations, but in court, and seems to be winning.

HDF’s proposal has suffered several setbacks lately, including withdrawing its final environmental impact statement from state consideration last month, and suffered another one Tuesday with a judgment by Judge Randal Valenciano that essentially revokes all the permits and approvals the dairy has received to this point.

The dispute isn’t over — unless HDF decides to shelf this proposal.

If we can learn anything from the events on the Big Island surrounding the dairy, it is that it’s best to clearly address and resolve concerns as early on in the process as possible. That is the best way to protect the environment — and avoid trying to determine who’s to blame for pollution problems later.

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