MAHAULEPU — Hawaii Dairy Farms announced Thursday it was discontinuing plans for a pasture-based dairy farm on Kauai.
Instead, it will explore other alternatives for food production on the Grove Farm land in Mahaulepu on the South Side.
“It is disappointing we were unable to find a path forward to help bring a more sustainable model of dairy farming to Hawaii,” said Amy Hennessey, director of communications for investor Ulupono Initiative in a statement.
She points out the proposal for the farm was based on best-management practices proven around the world “to create a more environmentally sustainable model of dairy farm that utilized active pasture management to minimize runoff and use grass as a low-cost source of feed.”
“But rather than incentivizing local food production to meet our state’s food goals, Hawaii’s environmental regulations seem to unfairly place dairies and other similar animal agriculture operations in the same category as wastewater treatment plants,” Hennessey said.
Community organization Friends of Mahaulepu headed local opposition to the dairy, which included a lawsuit and travel to Hawaii Island to help the Ookala community respond to the May overflow of untreated effluent through a nearby gulch. That wastewater made its way through communities and into the ocean. Big Island Dairy announced in November it would be closing, and that is expected soon.
Concerns were that the dairy at Mahaulepu would impact an already polluted stream, drinking water, and ultimately make its way to the ocean in the same manner as the waste did from Big Island Dairy’s operations.
The head of FOM, Bridget Hammerquist, said the decision was “the best for the environment of all of Kauai.
“HDF made their decision today only because there were a lot of very concerned citizens who devoted hundreds of hours and their hard-earned money to expose the likely and very serious consequences of HDF’s proposed industrial, pasture-based dairy (699 to 2,000 cows) on just 469 acres of Mahaulepu Valley,” she said.
“FOM, a large community group, worked hard to help public officials appreciate the serious risks of harm for all if their industrial, pasture-based dairy was allowed to operate,” Hammerquist said.
Representatives of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort &Spa also voiced concerns about impacts to local businesses and the environment.
“We are pleased that Ulupono Project has decided to abandon plans for a commercial dairy at Mahaulepu Valley and hope that future plans for the land are thoughtfully planned, conscientious and healthful for the people, land and sea,” said Diann Hartman, Grand Hyatt spokeswoman.
Five years in the making, HDF’s plans were to create a pasture-based dairy operation that would produce fresh milk locally. The site of the proposed dairy farm, which had not yet begun operations nor imported animals, was about 550 acres of Important Agricultural Lands in Mahaulepu. The goal was to start with 699 cows.
In 2015, Friends of Mahaulepu sued HDF, alleging violation of the federal Clean Water Act by installing irrigation systems and wells without a stormwater construction permit. HDF was ordered to pay more than half a million dollars in attorney fees and court costs and $125,000 to fund a supplemental environmental project for stream-bank restoration and endangered species protection at Makauwahi Cave Reserve.
In June 2016, HDF completed a draft environmental impact statement on the project and submitted it to the state Department of Health in January 2017. In March 2017, DOH wouldn’t approve the final EIS and HDF withdrew the document from consideration saying the goal was to allow more time to accommodate advice from the Office of Environmental Quality Control.
That put the project on pause, because in order to get a new final EIS approved by the DOH, HDF would have potentially had to restart the two-year process. That didn’t happen, though.
“During discussions with various state agencies, it became clear to HDF there is no reasonable regulatory path forward for the dairy operation despite its best efforts to go above and beyond environmental compliance requirements,” HDF said in its Thursday release.
The release continues: “Having exhausted all reasonable options for the dairy concept, HDF is now working with landowner Grove Farm and other third parties to explore alternative proposals for food production in Mahaulepu.”
Hammerquist said she thinks the plan just didn’t fit the environment and she never understood how HDF would be able to contain all of their runoff. She said based on her research, minimizing runoff wasn’t enough.
“No matter how hard HDF tried, they would not have been able to prevent runoff to the ocean and fecal contamination of water which has been proven at Ookala,” Hammerquist said. “Those pastures are six-tenths of a mile upslope from the ocean.”
All existing farm assets are being auctioned by Island Bid Auctions.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com.