Though Kauai likes to think of itself as “special,” its dramas are so often a microcosm of what's playing out in a larger arena.
That reality came to mind when I read the recent article about how a group of southsiders are threatening a lawsuit to stop Hawaii Dairy Farms, a pilot project funded by billionaire Pierre Omidyar.
The article was published right after a friend who disagrees with me on Bill 2491 emailed to say:
Why not grow food without chemicals? That’s a great “experiment” which could employ people healthfully. Could employ people in healthy environments. Have the government subsidize this experiment and employ people. The experiments can be funded by grants…….
So here we have an uber-rich guy, ready to fund a test project to see if milk can be produced cost-effectively in Hawaii using a rotational pasture method as an alternative to feedlots, employing people in a healthy environment, creating a stable new market for locally-grown feed, which is otherwise entirely imported, and what happens? It gets rejected before one cow even sets hoof on the island.
Surfrider and Friends of Mahaulepu, yet another new group formed in opposition to something, claim the dairy is already polluting the area, though it hasn't yet started operations. Friends member Bridget Hammerquist is quoted as saying:
They’re going to create a health hazard. It’s going to go into the streams. It already is.
Though it's not clear exactly what “it” is, since no dairy cows are on site, Surfrider's Carl Berg maintains the dairy has “already polluted the stream while doing its grading and grubbing on the land.” When I asked what he based that on, he replied: “Water sampling for bacteria, turbidity, total suspended solids, and nutrients at mouth of stream and just downstream of HDF property.”
In other words, it's not just the dairy that's bothering the groups, it's any agricultural activity at all. Because no matter what is grown or raised on that land, some grubbing and grading will be required. And that's a crucial point, since the dairy is proposed for acreage designated as Important Ag Land. The Mahaulepu site is an area where community members and elected officials agreed, after extensive public deliberation and discussion, that agriculture should be preserved for perpetuity.
But now we have people who chose to buy homes near an active agricultural area, saying no, we don't want any ag near us. Their sentiments are expressed by Jay Kechloian, who is quoted as saying:
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.
But even though their rhetoric is pro-ag/pro-dairy, their actions are anti-ag/anti-dairy — to the point of eying a lawsuit against HDF even though the dairy has not yet been approved by the state Department of Health, much less begun operations. They are launching a pre-emptive attack based on fear and speculation — the same tactics that proved so effective in the Bill 2491 GMO/pesticide debate.
It's clear that Surfrider and Friends of Mahaulepu alone want to dictate what sort of agriculture is acceptable and sustainable. And garans, no agricultural operation will ever be clean or sustainable enough to suit them.
Meanwhile, there's this weird dichotomy with the tourism industry that has inserted itself into ag and coastal lands throughout the island, especially on the southside. For some reason, tourism is getting a free pass from Surfrider, Friends and GMO Free Kauai.
This giant disconnect is blithely expressed by Linda Bothe — a Kalaheo resident and Dustin Barca supporter — in a letter to the editor today:
We are also dealing with some elected officials’ “brilliant idea” to put a polluting, smelly dairy on sacred grounds that lead right to the ocean. Also, right next door to one of our beautiful hotels that brings in tourism and with that income and jobs. Who is going to benefit from this huge mistake? Some elected leader is putting a lot of moo-la in their pocket, is my guess.
First, the dairy is not the “brilliant idea” of any elected official, but Omidyar's Ulu Pono Initiative — the same organization that has given money to greenie groups like
Waipa [correction, Waipa has not been funded by Ulu Pono] and Malama Kauai. Since Omidyar doesn't even
care if the dairy makes a profit, the ones who are intended to
benefit are Hawaii residents who could buy fresh milk, instead of
stuff imported thousands of miles from the mainland.
And why is it that Linda and others are bothered by the idea of a dairy “on sacred grounds that lead right to the ocean” but not a 600-room luxury hotel that is much closer to the ocean, with a sewage treatment plant in the flood zone, extensively manicured grounds, a golf course and numerous pools? If she believes the dairy will pollute the water, how is that she thinks the pesticides, sewage, chlorinated water and fertilizers associated with the Hyatt are not?
So if Linda, Surfrider, Friends of Mahaulepu and Malama Mahaulepu — whose board of directors includes GMO Free Kauai/Hawaii Seed President Jeri DiPietro — are successful in destroying HDF, and preventing Grove Farm from using even its IAL acreage for agriculture, what will come next?
You got it: more hotels and luxury homes, with their concurrent sewage, pesticide treatment, fertilized landscaping, etc. What's more, with the shoreline setback bill now under review, these uses wouldn't even need to go through a shoreline certification, since they'd be built on a rocky cliff. So they could be hanging right on the edge of those lovely limestone cliffs, with their sewage and chemicals seeping down into the water.
Is this a good trade-off? Are the dairy opponents aware of this? Or is this yet another example of how the anti-GMO folks are actually actively working to destroy agriculture in order to facilitate development?
Returning to the threatened lawsuit, and what's playing out in a larger arena, I recently read a piece about how 21 residents of a small New Mexico town have brought a nuisance lawsuit against “dairy row” — a string of feedlot dairies in the southern part of the state.
They are unhappy with the odor and flies they attribute to the dairy, but their legal action was prompted by a Georgia attorney, Richard Middleton, who specializes in agricultural nuisance lawsuits. Middletown — a new kind of ambulance chaser — came to the town, soliciting plaintiffs, after hearing one resident complain on NPR about flies.
Curiously, though all the dairies ostensibly produce flies and odors, only seven of the dozen or so that operate there are being sued. Perhaps because they've been identified as deep pockets? At any rate, a mediation session is set for Dec. 11.
“If successful, it could avoid a trial,” says Middleton, the residents’ attorney, “But we can walk away if there’s not sufficient money offered.” He declined to offer a figure that he was looking for, but added, “I’ve learned over the years that you have to hit [dairies] in the pocketbook.” Middleton’s been doing this kind of work since 1999 and says he’s seen some dairies clean up their operations while others have folded or moved.
Some of the plaintiffs want the dairies to leave, believing their town of about 1,000 people in one of the nation's poorest states will attract new industry. Others don't care because they're retired. And some, it seems, will tolerate smell and flies if they have money in their pocket, their friends, family and neighbors be damned.
But what really struck me about all this were the options: clean up, fold or move. If they fold, that's one less producer of the local food that everyone is clamoring for. If they move, it's someone else's problem. If they clean up, then maybe everyone benefits — except lawyers engaged in this ag extortion racket.
So instead of trying to destroy HDF (or the seed companies), or send them somewhere that's out of sight, out of mind, why not work with the agricultural entities to address real and legitimate concerns? Why not come at it from a place of, let's see what's possible? Instead of no, it's absolutely impossible — at least, in my backyard?