KOLOA — If necessary, Friends of Mahaulepu says it’s prepared to take legal action to stop Hawaii Dairy Farms’ proposed $17.5 million, 578-acre dairy in the Mahaulepu Valley.
However, group member Bridget Hammerquist said she and others are doing everything they can to avoid that route.
“We really want to say, ‘Look, the science isn’t there at this location. We haven’t got the cows. There’s nothing built. There’s no building permits’ … Now is the time, before the harm is done,” she said.
The group’s concerns surrounding HDF’s plan are extensive. And on Thursday, in front of about 200 people gathered at the Koloa Neighborhood Center, members laid them out one by one; from water contamination and impacts to the marine ecosystem to economic consequences and health risks from flies.
“Friends of Mahaulepu is pro agriculture and pro sustainable dairy on Kauai as long as it does not harm our environment — rivers, streams and oceans — and endanger our drinking water,” group member Jay Kechloian said.
After reviewing HDF’s plan, however, the group is convinced the dairy is a disaster waiting to happen — too many cows in too confined an area in the wrong location.
One major issue, they say, is the volume of manure. In one month, the landfill on Kauai’s Westside takes in 6,000 tons of waste, according to Hammerquist. The initial 699 cows HDF plans to have during its first phase of the project will produce 25 percent of that. And once the entire 2,000-cow heard is on the property, the dairy will produce more waste than the landfill, she said.
“They’re going to create a health hazard. It’s going to go into the streams,” Hammerquist said. “It already is.”
Carl Berg of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter presented his findings from water quality sampling he’s been doing in the area since March, following HDF’s meetings about their proposed dairy. Already, with no cows on the land, high levels of bacteria, nutrients and mud being found in nearby Waiopili Stream.
“This thing is off the wall,” he said. “It’s worse than the Ala Wai Canal (in Honolulu). And we thought this was a pristine stream.”
Berg said he doesn’t know if HDF has started monitoring the water quality, as it has promised it would, but Surfrider has and will continue to do so. The results thus far, he said, show HDF has already polluted the stream while doing its grading and grubbing on the land.
In an email Thursday, HDF spokeswoman Amy Hennessey said she and other dairy representatives were not invited to the meeting, and therefore did not plan to attend.
“I would just reiterate that we’re continuing our work with the Department of Health and the county as part of the regulatory review process to ensure our proposed plans meet and go beyond compliance,” she wrote. “We’re committed to creating a grass-based dairy that is sustainable both environmentally and economically so that we can provide fresh, local milk statewide at prices everyone can afford.”
Mary Mulhall of Wailua Homesteads said she was impressed with the presentation and feels Friends of Mahaulepu has done its homework and is working hard to get facts to the public. Her own concerns are about polluting a special place.
“I came out (to the meeting) because I’ve loved Mahaulepu as long as I’ve known Mahaulepu,” she said.
Not everyone was convinced by the presentation.
Southside resident Barbara Bloemke said she grew up on a farm with cattle and believes in agriculture.
“I think the dairy is a good thing,” she said. “I think you can take data and you can make data and scientists say whatever you want them to say to make it work for your side. Somewhere in the middle is probably the truth.”
The meeting also touched on several other potential impacts, including risks to native species, affects on property values, biting flies, and the loss of jobs, visitors and businesses.
Eileen Kechloian, another Friends group member, said she and her husband used to live two and a half miles from a dairy in Washington state. If the cows come, the biting flies are sure to follow, along with negative impacts to tourism and property values, she said.
“Can you imagine if you were thinking about where to go in Hawaii and you went on TripAdvisor and there was a complaint about being bit by flies?” she asked.
Kawailoa Development, LLP, owner of the nearby Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa and the Poipu Bay Golf Course, filed suit against HDF in 5th Circuit Court July 10, claiming its business, recreational, environmental and aesthetic interests would be adversely affected should the dairy move into the neighborhood. It is asking the court to require HDF to complete an environmental assessment.
That same month, in light of public outcry, HDF announced it would gradually phase in its operations over several months, beginning with between 650 and 699 cows and eventually reaching the initial 2,000.
In previous statements, Hennessey called the lawsuit an “insidious attack on local food,” and said that if development cannot coexist with agriculture, Kauai’s farmers, local food industry and, ultimately, families will be the “victims of unfettered growth.”
The Department of Health is reviewing HDF’s revised plan.