Critics, supporters of Kauai dairy farm seek to sway public opin - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Critics, supporters of Kauai dairy farm seek to sway public opinion

(Image: Hawaii Dairy Farms) (Image: Hawaii Dairy Farms)
(Image: Hawaii Dairy Farms) (Image: Hawaii Dairy Farms)
KOLOA, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A proposed dairy farm on Kauai's south shore is not only fighting lawsuits. It's fighting with critics over the public's perception of the project.

The battle for Mahaulepu is, above all, about the water that flows through several farms into the Waiopili stream and out to the ocean.

That water is polluted and no one knows why. The head of the state's Clean Water Branch thinks its soil sediment or animal feces; maybe feral pigs, ducks or horses.

The Friends of Mahaulepu are convinced it will get much worse with 699 cows grazing in the area. They've been fighting to stop it with public meetings, letter writing, newspaper ads, and radio spots.

In one radio spot the announcer says, "There's not gonna be zero discharge. They now admit they're going to put nitrates and phosphorous into the stream and into the ocean."

But Amy Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Ulupono Initiative, Hawaii Dairy Farms investor, says there's more to it.

"There is the potential (of discharge) for no more than 10 days of the year. One percent nitrogen, 2 percent phosphorous," she said. "That's actually trace amounts compared to what's applied every day to the golf courses in the Poipu area and on people's yards in neighborhoods."

The dairy farm was first proposed for 577 acres of agricultural lands in 2014.

Investor Ulupono Initiative is funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and has pushed for more local food production. Most of Hawaii's milk comes from the mainland because of the high costs of producing milk locally.

Opponents, though, say the project could threaten the environment.

One radio spot from opponents focuses on the flood risk: "Oh no, what if we have another Darby? Or 40 days and 40 nights of rain? Oh, it would be terrible. Two million pounds of manure a month. It's all gonna flow into the ditches and go right out into the ocean."

Hennessey says that won't happen because the company's large effluent pond would hold weeks worth of runoff.

"There would have to be a really devastating natural disaster for that to happen, something probably worse than a 100-year storm," she said.

Then there's the grass the cows would graze on, called kikuyu.

It grows in a thick mat meant to catch the manure, which would biodegrade into a natural fertilizer. The nearest groundwater well would be 1,000 feet away at a higher elevation. Fences would keep the cows away from drainage ditches. Water quality would be monitored around the clock.

"So we've worked with soil scientists, water specialists, agriculture design specialists, who know all the codes on how to design a farm properly to make sure all the safety controls in here are more than protective," Hennessey said.

But Friends of Mahaulepu President Bridget Hammerquist says her group has serious doubts.

When asked if the truth could be somewhere in the middle, she answered "no."

"I think they're using fuzzy math to get there," she said. "And there's a lot of good people in the community, biologists, micro biologists, marine biologists, who have studied this plan."

The Friends of Mahaulepu are disputing nearly every aspect of the dairy farm plan, from the risk to the aquifer to the soil to the odors. The list goes on.  Hammerquist sees the dairy as a money-hungry operation, planning to nearly triple the number of cows.

"There's been a lot of misrepresentation from the dairy to the public," she said, "and they lost public confidence from their own statements."

Hennessey, meanwhile, says the project has had to correct some mistakes, but nothing malicious. Hawaii Dairy Farms still thinks Mahaulelpu is the best place for a sustainable dairy.

"We've done research," said Hennessey, "we've adjusted our plans to accommodate a lot of the things they've asked us to do. So it's really disappointing that there continues to be mistrust and mis-characterization of those changes when they're exactly what the community is asking for."

Hawaii Dairy Farms plans to submit a final Environmental Impact Statement by the end of this year. Then the Health Department has a month to decide whether to issue the permit. If it does, Friends of Mahaulepu leaders promising another lawsuit.

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