Young Brothers’ livestock shipping changes raise concerns

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Hawaii County Councilman Tim Richards of Kohala testifies against Young Brothers' requested 34% rate increase before the state Public Utilities Commission in January at Hilo's Aupuni Center.

Proposed changes to livestock shipping procedures by interisland ocean shipper Young Brothers have some concerned that all but the largest ranchers might be priced out of the market.

Those affected, according to testifiers at a state Public Utilities Commission conference Feb. 4 in Honolulu, include those who ship less than a container load of cattle, those who ship smaller animals such as sheep, goats and swine, and those who ship only one animal at a time, such as high school rodeo athletes.

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The proposed changes come amid PUC consideration of the shipper’s request for a 34% increase in shipping rates.

Starting April 1, those changes include a decision by Young Brothers to only ship livestock in 20- and 40-foot certified livestock containers and trailers, and the shipper will stop transporting animals in wooden crates called box stalls. And effective as of Feb. 1, the company eliminated the transfer at the dock of livestock into containers.

A Young Brothers document also said it will no longer store livestock containers at its facilities, and any privately owned containers at Hawaii ports have to be moved by April 1.

Keith Kiyotoki, Young Brothers sales and marketing manager, said livestock shipping represents “under 1% of our total revenue.”

“But we understand at Young Brothers the importance of shipping livestock,” Kiyotoki added. “It’s not only for the state to be self-sustainable, but also there’s some cultural aspects on shipping horses.”

For Kawaihae and Nawiliwili, Kauai, the proposal also adds an additional day of livestock shipping to Honolulu each week — departing on Friday and arriving on Saturday. That makes two possible outgoing shipments a week from those neighbor island ports for farmers, ranchers and equestrians, with the other on Tuesday.

The company doesn’t ship livestock to or from Hilo.

Young Brothers also is accepting later delivery of livestock. According to the document, the company will accept livestock delivery on all islands by the “scheduled gate closure at each port or 90 minutes prior to barge departure time, whichever comes first.”

“Ninety minutes is about the time it takes for us to safely receive the animal, conduct the proper documentation … and place it on the vessel,” said Chris Martin, Young Brothers director of terminal operations.

According to the shipper, the proposed changes are necessary for the animals’ and dock workers’ safety. There have been livestock deaths, and workers have been injured in dock accidents involving livestock.

There also was an incident in November in which 20 cattle died at sea.

Another driver of the change, according to Young Brothers, is compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. The state Department of Transportation’s Harbors Division is bound by a consent decree reached with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 following a massive molasses spill at Honolulu Harbor in 2013.

In addition, Young Brothers anticipates losing space at its Honolulu pier facility when phase two of construction of the Kapalama Container Terminal beings in October, and because of “aging asphalt conditions” at Piers 39 and 40.

Young Brothers President Jay Ana told commissioners the changes “were intended as a proposal to address concerns related to safety, balanced against our customers’ needs.”

“What’s triggering this now is the loss of life as a result of … the 20 lost cattle (in November), re-evaluating our processes as a result of that, and communication that we are going to be losing pier space,” Ana said. “Those two events are what’s really driving the sense of urgency.”

Young Brothers held a Jan. 31 meeting about the proposed changes with some stakeholders, including the DOT and cattle industry representatives.

In written testimony, Keith Unger, president of Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council — the Waimea-based statewide umbrella for the four county-level cattlemen’s associations noted his organization “does not represent all livestock species that are shipped” and urged Young Brothers “to notify and involve those who represent other livestock species.”

Kea Among, who owns Kea’s Horse Trailering Service on Oahu, testified she and other stakeholders weren’t included in the Jan. 31 meeting. She said Young Brothers is “the only game in town” for Neighbor Island high school rodeo athletes to get their horses to the state finals.

“They work so hard all year long, and then, for them go to state finals and have to pay an arm and a leg, they can’t do it,” Among said.

Maui rancher Brendan Balthazar said the cost for those who have to trade box-stall crates for certified containers and trailers will be “astronomical.”

“All of those trailers … are going to have to be retrofitted,” he said. “The rule changes changes the cost of shipping.”

Hawaii County Councilman Tim Richards of Kohala, a veterinarian and rancher who chairs the council’s Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management, said he’s concerned about “orphan commodities that we still have to move.”

“We’ve got to pay attention to the little guy that doesn’t have enough to fill a full container, or cowtainer, as it might be,” Richards said.

Saying he’s helped formulate the parameters of interstate shipping of livestock, Richards added he’s “willing to work with the protocols and come up with best management practices and all that.”

“I don’t want to commit to more regulations, because too many regulations are going to defeat us,” he said. “… If we look at the annual (gross domestic product) from agriculture, it’s less than 1%. Statewide, it’s about the same. … That is one of those industries … that really doesn’t produce a large amount of net cash, but truly, we’d die without it. We’d starve. So we’ve got to take care of agriculture.”

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PUC Chairman James Griffin said the regulatory panel will take the input under advisement.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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