HILO — Big Island Dairy has met all of the state Department of Health’s enforcement actions to address the dairy’s water pollution violations that began two years ago, the DOH announced Monday.
In 2019, DOH issued an administrative order, which required the dairy owners to ultimately cease discharging wastewater and pay either a monetary penalty or support a DOH-approved environmentally beneficial project.
As part of that order, the 2,500-acre Ookala dairy, which is no longer in operation, stopped all milking and creamery operations; eliminated its wastewater system; removed all chemicals and fuels from the facility; removed all of its dairy cows from confinement and reduced its herd to nearly zero; and paid $87,000 to the Center for Food Safety to complete environmentally beneficial projects that will help the people of Ookala most impacted by the violations.
The Center for Food Safety — which was a plaintiff, along with citizen group Kupale Ookala, in a federal lawsuit filed against the dairy owners for Clean Water Act violations — will implement a series of projects, including upgrades to the local drinking water system, sampling and disinfection of soil contaminated by excess manure runoff, and upgrades and maintenance to local storm water infrastructure.
The $87,000 was based on a penalty of $79,000 stipulated in the order, as well as two additional penalties of $4,000 each for discharges that occurred after it went into effect, a DOH spokeswoman said in December.
The DOH’s Clean Water Branch began to receive complaints in 2014 about the dairy’s wastewater discharges into nearby streams that run through Ookala.
In March of 2017, DOH confirmed that the dairy was discharging wastewater and initiated the first of two formal enforcement actions, ordering the dairy to cease its discharges of wastewater, seek a DOH-issued pollutant discharge system permit, and make corrective actions to prevent additional violations.
After issuing the 2017 enforcement action, the dairy repeatedly experienced incidents that led to additional discharges of millions of gallons of wastewater and contaminated storm water from its wastewater systems.
Big Island Dairy owners announced in November 2018 they would discontinue dairy and milk processing operations at the facility, which has been owned by Steve and Derek Whitesides since 2011 and was located on land leased from the state.
“The Department of Health remains a strong supporter of local agriculture and food security but must ensure that agricultural businesses are conducted in an environmentally responsible, sustainable manner,” said Keith Kawaoka, DOH deputy director of environmental health. “It’s disappointing that Big Island Dairy was unable to fill the need for local milk and milk products, while also meeting all federal and state environmental regulations to protect local communities and our delicate ecosystems.”