Big Island Dairy closure ahead of schedule

Five months after the owners of Big Island Dairy announced they would cease operations at the Ookala facility, by the end of April all cows were removed from confinement and the dairy ended all milking operations ahead of schedule, according to the state Department of Health.

Big Island Dairy owners said in November they would discontinue dairy and milk processing operations at the facility, which has been owned by Steve and Derek Whitesides since 2011 and located on land leased from the state.

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The dairy and the DOH entered into an agreement at the end of March that addressed numerous discharges of wastewater containing manure from the dairy into state waters during the past two years.

That agreement required the owners to terminate their dairy operations, remove all cows from confinement, clean and remove the existing wastewater system and pay $79,000 by June, either as an administrative penalty or to fund an environmentally beneficial project in the area.

“To date, the dairy has reported completion of all closure actions required by the consent agreement,” said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo. “DOH expects that the dairy will be conducting limited ‘operations’ as part of its closure.”

According to Okubo, those operations include eliminating the wastewater lagoons and ensuring the stability of the fields until June.

Residents of Ookala have endured releases of manure-laden water from the dairy into nearby gulches that run through or next to the community.

In April, the DOH reported 3.5 million gallons of stormwater mixed with wastewater were discharged from the dairy. An estimated 2 million gallons of wastewater mixed with stormwater were discharged from the dairy’s wastewater lagoons in February. Spills, discharges and overflows from the lagoons also were reported in April, May, August and December last year.

“While the DOH has been disappointed by recent weather-related discharges from the dairy’s wastewater lagoons over the past quarter, we are optimistic that discharges of that nature should be coming to an end,” Okubo said.

The department’s Clean Water Branch will conduct inspections during the next two months to ensure all actions reported by the dairy are satisfactorily completed.

A phone call to dairy management was not immediately returned.

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Janelle Saneishi, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees the land leased by the dairy, said future plans for the property have not yet been determined, but the indication is that the dairy will hold the lease until near the end of the year.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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