Health Department ends saga of Big Island Dairy violations
The state Health Department announced in mid- January it has ended its enforcement of Big Island Dairy LLC in Ookala and that the business has met all of its legal requirements regarding past water pollution violations.
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The state Health Department announced in mid-
January it has ended its enforcement of Big Island Dairy LLC in Ookala and that the business has met all of its legal requirements regarding past water pollution violations.
The declaration closes the chapter to a years-long saga over the 2,500-acre dairy’s operations, which resulted in more than $100,000 in fines and a federal lawsuit.
In November 2018, Big
Island Dairy announced it would cease operations and lay off its 24 employees the following year due to financial and regulatory challenges.
Early last year the dairy farm also reached a settlement with the Center for Food Safety, a national nonprofit that had filed a federal suit against the farm in 2017, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act on behalf
of local residents.
The nonprofit’s complaint said the dairy’s improper storage of manure resulted
in animal waste entering streams that flowed into the ocean and was keeping it in open-water lagoons, among other allegations.
Ookala residents living
below the farm had complained for years about the smelly, brown water, which often tested positive for
That settlement required the dairy to stop milking by Feb. 28 and to end operations by April 30, 2019.
The state Department of Health confirmed that by the end of 2019, Big Island Dairy LLC had ceased operations and complied with the following:
>> 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.
>> Paid $87,000 to the Center for Food Safety to complete environmentally beneficial projects for Ookala residents most affected by the violations.
Matthew Kurano, environmental health specialist for the Health Department’s Clean Water Branch, said
Big Island Dairy had complied with its administrative orders, which stem back
to complaints as early as 2014.
“They actually were ahead of schedule on most things,” he said.
Although the Health Department news release described the herd as reduced to “nearly zero,” Kurano said there were about 300 cows and 100 calves remaining on the property.
Previously, there were more than 3,000 cows, he said. The cows are no longer in confinement, and are now roaming pastures. Additionally, the wastewater lagoons have been removed.
The state Health Department’s Clean Water Branch began receiving complaints about the dairy’s wastewater discharges into streams that run through the town of Ookala as early as 2014.
In March 2017 the department initiated the first of
two formal enforcement actions. It ordered the dairy to cease its discharges, to seek a Health Department-issued pollutant discharge system permit and to take corrective actions to prevent further
Despite these actions,
the dairy continued to discharge millions of gallons of wastewater and contaminated stormwater from its wastewater systems. Last year the department issued a
consent decree outlining
required actions, and Big
Island Dairy decided to close down.
Sylvia Wu, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said the nonprofit was pleased with the update.
“We’re obviously happy for the community of Ookala and that that chapter of their lives is over,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, in our view, that it took litigation for that to happen.”
She said the $87,000 received as part of the settlement would all be dedicated to environmentally beneficial projects for the Ookala community. These include sampling and disinfection of soil contaminated by excess manure runoff, upgrades to the local drinking water system and stormwater infrastructure.