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State agriculture director pulls offer to fund farm’s tests

HILO >> Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s director pulled an offer to help pay for environmental quality tests near a Hawaii island dairy farm that’s accused of polluting gulches.

Director Scott Enright told residents last March that he would use contingency funds to support follow-up inspections or additional soil and water tests following complaints. But he backed away from that offer, citing a lawsuit filed by a group of residents that accuses Big Island Dairy of violating the federal Clean Water Act, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Thursday.

The department leases state land to the dairy.

Enright said the decision to pull the offer was based on advice from state attorneys and that he thinks those tests will be done as part of the lawsuit anyway.

But Charlene Nishida, a Kupale Ooakla board member who helped file the lawsuit, said she isn’t buying it.

“We’re incredibly disappointed in Scott Enright and his lack of fulfilling any of the promises he made in person and shook hands on at that meeting,” Nishida said.

The lawsuit alleges wastewater is over-sprayed on the farm’s fields, causing runoff into nearby gulches and stream beds, including one that goes through town.

The Department of Health fined the farm $25,000 in May for unlawful discharge of wastewater. But residents involved in the lawsuit said the problem is deeper than the one incident which prompted a fine.

Enright, however, said the department didn’t find additional discharges at the farm during a follow-up inspection.

“I’d make the contention they are good farmers,” Enright said. “They do need to work on the odor issue.”

Since the lawsuit, the dairy stopped growing corn on the property and planted grass to reduce erosion and runoff. The department said the dairy has also installed a new wastewater treatment plant for its milking and bottling facility.

Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the department’s clean water branch will conduct periodic unannounced inspections as part of its “ongoing enforcement oversight.”

“At this time, there are no plans for more water quality tests,” Okubo said. “The streams that run through the dairy are non-perennial and seem to only flow during heavy storms.”

A phone number for the dairy’s general manager was no longer in service Wednesday.

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