LIHUE — Ink has dried on an Administrative Order on Consent between the Hawaii Department of Health and the owners of Big Island Dairy, LLC — a document that will ensure responsible closure of the dairy, according to DOH.
And on Kauai, Friends of Maha‘ulepu is celebrating. They stood side-by-side with Hawaii Island residents during the meetings, discussions and litigations — all the way to the April 30 settlement in the federal Clean Water Act violation lawsuit.
Bridget Hammerquist, head of Friends of Maha‘ulepu, said she went to the area several times.
“I went to their first community meeting ever, (and) taught them how to do the water quality testing that they needed to do,” Hammerquist said.
She said the situation “became the poster child for all of us” who were fighting to keep Hawaii Dairy Farms/Ulupono Initiative from starting a dairy in the Maha‘ulepu Valley.
For Big Island Dairy, DOH says entry into the AOC ensures that the closing of the dairy is being conducted in an expeditious and responsible manner.
“While the Department of Health supports local agricultural and food sustainability, operation of industrial agricultural facilities must be conducted in a manner that respects both Hawaii’s delicate environment and the local communities that host them,” said Keith Kawaoka, DOH deputy director of environmental health.
DOH says Big Island Dairy was unable to comply with state and federal laws in place to protect human and environmental health due to the dairy’s size, limitations of its wastewater system and local environmental conditions.
That’s all because of the amount of rainfall the area gets, and the steep slopes and volcanic soils that make it susceptible to flooding.
The AOC requires Big Island Dairy owners to terminate their dairy operations, remove all their cows from confinement on the site, clean and remove the existing wastewater system, and pay $79,000 by June, either as an administrative penalty or to fund an environmentally beneficial project in the area.
The removal of cows in confinement and the cleaning and removal of the dairy’s wastewater system is expected to halt the odor and wastewater discharges that have affected neighbors in Oʻokala during operations at the Big Island Dairy facility.
Wastewater discharge was one of the big reasons FOM and partners rallied against the dairy at Maha‘ulepu. They point out the Waiopili Stream is still polluted and still needs to be addressed.
Hammerquist says her research indicates the bacteria in the stream could be coming from the biosolids dumpsite that was in the area from 2003-2013. It was a secondary treatment area, and four companies had contracts to dump in the area.
“If it is the biosolids dump site (contributing bacteria to the Waiopili Stream), we’re looking at 10 to 20 years, possibly even 30 (before it’s clean),” she said.
FOM and other partners have been working with DOH for several years to pinpoint the source of the bacteria in the stream.
Meanwhile, pipes and irrigation equipment have been sold from the Maha‘ulepu dairy site, and Hawaii Dairy Farms/Ulupono Initiative haven’t announced what could potentially replace food production on the land, for which they’re six years into a 20-year lease.
Hammerquist doesn’t mind that no new plans have been announced for the area, either.
“It’s OK. It needs a good rest and no more waste,” she said.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.