Group says state 'abandoned' them over dairy's stinky run-off
BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Big Island residents are preparing to meet with Gov. David Ige to address ongoing pollution concerns about a large dairy farm.
The Ookala community grilled state health and agriculture officials in a public meeting last week.
"You turned your back on us," said Hawaii County Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter. "It really felt like Ookala was abandoned."
Complaints first began in 2014.
Residents say runoff from Big Island Dairy's manure ponds and wastewater for irrigation have been filtering into streams and the ocean, resulting in mucky water that smells like sewage.
The 2,500-acre farm houses about 1,800 cows. It's located uphill from the tight-knit Ookala community and separated only by farm lands, gulches and streams.
State Environmental Health Specialist Matt Kurano acknowledged the Health Department dropped the ball after a 2014 inspection indeed found that wastewater was spilling off the farm's property, but nothing was done to fix the problem.
In 2016, health inspectors visited the dairy again to assess its needs for a discharge permit, but found no evidence of runoff.
"In 2014, we didn't take action," said Kurano. "In 2016, we reviewed it again and said 'darn it' there was a clear discharge, something very actionable in 2014, but now it's 2.5 years old. We have to vet if this is relevant and if it's still going on.
Kurano blamed the department's lack of resources for not taking care of the issue sooner.
Poindexter said that's not an excuse and that this is more than just an Ookala issue, it's a statewide problem.
"When it comes to holding the feet to the fire from these large scale ag corporations coming in and doing ag in Hawaii, we really have no regulatory body to protect the community and to make sure that they don't ruin all of our water resources and gathering places for food," said Poindexter. "Is it profit over people? We'd like to see people over profit for once."
Department of Ag's Scott Enright told residents he will pay to cover any future inspections and tests that are needed.
"I will work with you to try and get the answers as to what's going on," Enright said in the meeting.
Hawaii News Now could not reach Big Island Dairy for comment, but in a separate community meeting in early March, General Manager Brad Duff advised Ookala residents to never go into the gulches.
The closed meeting with Gov. Ige is scheduled for Monday morning.
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