As the Hawaii Dairy Farms project wends its way through a voluntary EIS and now a pending trial, one message is coming through loud and clear: if you want to do ag on Kauai, you'd best have thick skin, endless patience and deep pockets.
Doesn't matter if the project is producing the local food that the antis are clamoring for. Doesn't matter if it's happening on Important Ag Land — acreage specifically dedicated to farming. Doesn't matter if the land has been used for agriculture — in this case, sugar and cattle pasture — for more than a century.
If the antis don't want it for whatever reason — in this case, because they think it may diminish their property values — they'll fight you tooth and nail, while claiming they're trying to protect “sacred, pristine” land.
Friends of Mahaulepu (FMO) is currently suing HDF, claiming the company widened ditches while preparing its pastures, and thus caused the extremely high levels of bacteria found in a ditch there. HDF claims it didn't widen ditches or cause any pollution, a stance supported by the state Department of Health's sanitary survey, which confirmed the dairy site is not the source of the high bacterial counts in Waiopili ditch.
In the most recent action, this past Thursday, federal Judge Leslie Kobayashi denied both parties' requests for summary judgment, which means the dispute will go to trial. It's set for Feb. 14 on Oahu.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health is attempting to determine the source of the high bacteria counts that Surfrider — the same group trying to stop the dairy — discovered during its supposedly impartial and scientific water monitoring. The trial will determine whether HDF caused pollution — a question that may be pre-empted by the DOH study.
Not that FOM or Surfrider will accept the DOH study unless it gives them the results they want, just as they refused to accept the EIS, even though they demanded HDF prepare one.
But though the antis are trying specifically to kill the Mahaulepu dairy, their actions could be creating fallout for other ag uses. The suit that FOM brought against HDF claimed the company failed to obtain an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) stormwater construction permit before beginning work to improve its pastures.
HDF argued that its work to establish pasture was allowed under an agricultural exemption, and so no permit was needed for that activity. It is currently seeking an NPDES permit for the milking parlor and other dairy facilities.
But Judge Kobayashi ruled that the pasture was part of the larger dairy project, so the NPDES was required before even pasture improvements could begin. What will be the ramifications of this decision for other agricultural uses? Will farmers and ranchers now have to go through expense — and delays — of securing an NPDES permit before they can make any improvements that could be deemed part of a larger operation?
It all depends on whether the antis are watching and gunning for your project. If they are, they will stop at nothing —including flying in so-called experts from the mainland — to first take shit about your project, and then file lawsuits to take it down.
Meanwhile, HDF has filed for an extension of its NPDES permit application so it has time to process the mountain of comments submitted by every NIMBY in Poipu on the EIS it voluntarily conducted.
And FOM and Surfrider are busy talking trash to The Garden Island, making like HDF polluted the ocean, when that issue is still to be determined by the courts. Then the rest of the ignorant yahoos have to weigh in, like the commenter who claimed on my last post that a federal judge shut the dairy down.
No. That's not even close to the truth.
The fact is, if the dairy wasn't being bankrolled by Pierre Omidyar, as a pilot project that doesn't need to make money, just demonstrate if a pasture-based system can work in Hawaii, it would be dead by now. No business entity could afford to see it through to this point, while still facing an uncertain future.
Which is exactly how the antis want it. Even as they scream for more local food, more local ag, they fight every reasonable attempt to do it as not pure and pono enough.
So if you can't do ag on Important Ag Land, what's left?
Why, more gentrification and tourism, of course.
I recall Surfrider's Carl Berg opining, when the dairy was first proposed, that Grove Farm was pushing to have a dairy at Mahauelepu precisely because it would meet opposition, giving them justification for pulling the land out of the IAL designation and developing it as tourism.
Yet even though he saw that as undesireable, everything he and FOM are doing is helping to ensure such an outcome.