LIHUE — Those concerned about opening a dairy in the Mahaulepu valley started celebrating Tuesday after Big Island Dairy owners announced they’ll be shutting down operations on Hawaii Island.
Owners confirmed the Ookala facility was being discontinued forfinancial reasons.
“The process of winding up business operations will take several months to complete, during which time the milk processing will end, and cows will be removed from active milking,” owners Derek Whitesides and Steve Whitesides said in an emailed statement. “This was a difficult decision for Big Island Dairy, but it has reached a point that it lacks the additional resources needed to continue the operation under current economic and regulatory conditions.”
Residents of Ookala formed the citizen group Kupale Ookala and have been launching complaints about the dairy, located on state land, contaminating nearby community water sources. Some of the bigger incidents include a three-day event in May that released nearly 2.3 million gallons of rain and wastewater, and a wastewater pond overflow due to Hurricane Lane in August.
Following a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit, the state Department of Health fined the dairy $25,000 in May 2017 for unlawful discharge of water.
Kauai group Friends of Mahaulepu teamed up with Kupale Ookala to research state water testing data, attend meetings and testify at hearings.
The group has for years been battling a plan to put a 699-cow dairy on 557 acres of Important Agricultural Lands in Mahaulepu — and they say they saw their fears realized in the Big Island situation.
Big Island Dairy is a large confinement operation of nearly 3,000 cows.
“We knew we had to fight for them because it would help the people of Kauai as well,” said FOM president Bridget Hammerquist. “FOM is relieved for the people of Ookala.”
The FOM Board of Directors attended the meetings, photographed Big Island Dairy and invited Oahu environmental activist Carroll Cox to attend and be part of a helicopter flyover that documented waste runoff from the dairy into the Ookala streams, through their community and into the ocean.
Big Island Dairy owners said it’s looking for potential successors to take over business operations in lieu of shutting down.
“Big Island Dairy believes there is value in the dairy market in Hawaii, and that the residents of Hawaii are better off with a local, sustainable food supply that includes milk and dairy products,” Derek Whitesides and Steve Whitesides said.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at email@example.com. Hawaii Tribune-Herald contributed to this report.