Managers from the mainland-owned Big Island Dairy have told community groups and attorneys who sued them last year that they will be closing operations by the end of February.

Charles Tebbutt, an attorney representing Kupale Ookala — the community group that sued the dairy — told Civil Beat Tuesday that while the dairy plans to shut down operations by the end of February, it’s still not yet clear when they might clear their facilities of any effluent that could leak from their sites.

A sign posted in April 2018 next to the Alialoha Gulch in the town of Ookala warns of runoff from the Big Island Dairy. Courtesy of Charlie Tebbutt

Steve and Derek Whitesides, owners of the Big Island Dairy, confirmed the closure in an emailed statement to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

“This was a difficult decision for Big Island Dairy, but it has reached a point that it lacks the additional resources needed to continue the operation under current economic and regulatory conditions,” the Whitesides said in the statement.

The owners went on to say that they are looking for successors to take over operations.

Tebbutt, as well as the Center for Food Safety and lawyers with the Seattle-based Terrell Marshall Law Group, were also listed in a lawsuit filed last year against the Big Island Dairy.

The lawsuit alleged that manure from the dairy overflows from open air containment lagoons through a “spillway” to the Kaohaoha Gulch in Ookala, about 27 miles north of Hilo.

Tebbutt said that a settlement conference is scheduled with the managers of the dairy farms in December. He and the groups want a closure plan that ensures no effluent seeps out of the dairy.

They’ll also seek fines for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act by the dairy. The maximum fines are up to $50,000 per violation a day, Tebbutt said.

“We could prove scores, if not hundreds of violations,” he said.

The Big Island Dairy had about 3,200 head of cattle as of August, Tebbutt said. He also said the Whitesides own an Idaho dairy with 10,000 head of cattle.

It’s not yet known how many employees could be affected by the dairy’s closure.

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