Embattled Big Island dairy farm plans to cease operations, lay off employees

Embattled Big Island dairy farm plans to cease operations, lay off employees

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An embattled Big Island dairy farm plans to cease operations in the new year and lay off its 24 employees, Hawaii News Now has confirmed.

But the farm is also looking for a buyer — and hopes to find a company interested in keeping a dairy running.

Big Island Dairy in Ookala has faced years of litigation from the community over environmental concerns.

Last year, the dairy was slapped with a hefty state fine for discharging wastewater into local water supplies. Federal agencies had also been investigating the dairy’s compliance with environmental laws.

Residents had complained about wastewater running into their properties and smells wafting into their neighborhoods.

An attorney for the dairy, David Claiborne, said the process of closing the farm is expected to take several months.

“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,” Claiborne said.

“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. To that end, it is searching for potential successors to take over business operations.”

Attorney Charlie Tebbutt, who represents the community, said employees at the farm have been notified of the planned shutdown. The company has also informed the community about the plans to close.

He said the scale of the wastewater discharge from the farm was immense: Some 2.3 million gallons of wastewater was discharged in May, while 5.9 million gallons was discharged in August.

“It all discharged into gulches that ran through the town of Ookala. They didn’t have the capacity to handle that amount of manure,” Tebbutt said.

The closure, he added, is a “confirmation of what was obvious — that a facility on a 20 percent slope with erodable soils and 160 inches of rain a year cannot feasibly operate in that type of environment.”

Tebbutt said the community has been informed that milking cows are slated to be off the facility by the end of February.

The farm is on about 2,200 acres of land leased from the state, and has about 1,800 cows.

This story will be updated.

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