KOLOA, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The lush Mahaulepu Valley on Kauai's South Shore is the setting of a growing environmental battle pitting local residents against Hawaii's richest man.
About 200 people packed the Koloa Neighborhood Center Thursday night to voice their concerns about billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's plans to build a high-tech dairy there.
"We think it's inappropriate to have an industrial-sized dairy in that particular place," said Carl Berg, Blue Water Task Force Coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation's Kauai Chapter.
"For us, it's a public health problem. That much manure with that many diseases, viruses and bacteria could cause us to say we should be in there."
Omidyar's Ulupono Initiative has invested $17 million in Hawaii Dairy Farms, which plans to bring in 600 cows, doubling the amount of locally produced milk in the state.
But residents and environmentalists say the dairy will generate more than 3 million pounds of manure each month, causing runoff problems and noxious odors for neighbors and nearby hotels.
"The massive amount of waste so close to the ocean is the biggest concern," said Bridget Hammerquist, a Koloa resident.
The Kauai dairy hopes to open by 2016 but it still needs to conduct an environmental study. It also faces a lawsuit by the nearest hotel, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa.
Amy Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the Ulupono Initiative, said the dairy has implemented a number of protective measures such as large setback areas and containment berms to prevent runoff.
Hennessey said most of the manure produced by the cows will be left in the pasture as fertilizer.
Manure that's deposited while the cows are being milking will go into an effluent pond, where it's mixed with water and put back into the pasture.
Hennessey said the ponds are designed with a 100-year rainstorm holding capacity, meaning it would prevent the sludge from flowing into nearby streams and the ocean.
"We really view this as best practices in dairy farming for sustainable dairy farming. It's much better for the environment, it's much better for the cows and it's more financially sustainable," she said.
Less than ten percent of the milk we consume is produced in Hawaii. Businesses say expanding local production will benefit the economy.
"I support the dairy farm because at some point we're going to have to get serious about producing our food locally," said Jerry Ornellas, vice president at the Kauai Farm Bureau.
"This is a classic case of shifting the burden, not in my backyard. Let's put it in some other neighborhood."