HOLLISTER • City officials have serious questions about an acid whey disposal operation outside of town.
Mayor Dixie Choate has called a special town meeting Tuesday evening to address residents’ concerns. An environmental expert from Chobani Inc.’s corporate office in New York plans to attend. So do Twin Falls County Commissioners Terry Kramer and Leon Mills.
The city of Hollister owns 120 acres near a pond used by contract hauler Neil Gibby to hold acid whey - a byproduct from the Greek yogurt giant Chobani’s plant in Twin Falls, Choate said. The whey is fed into an irrigation system and sprinkled on farmland near the city’s property.
Chobani officials visited the site last month after getting complaints from folks in Hollister, a tiny town that sits 24 miles north of Nevada. Gibby has since stopped hauling into the disposal pond, Choate said.
Acid whey - also called sour whey - is considered toxic because of its low pH.
“We do not, nor have we ever, ‘dumped’ our whey in a way that is harmful to the environment,” said Melissa Stagnaro, company spokeswoman. “Chobani is committed to being a good community partner.”
The whey was sprayed through a center pivot onto land adjacent to Hollister’s old domestic water wells, Choate said. Although the wells are not used now, they might be later.
The city does not have a wellhead protection plan in place, the mayor said, but she plans to remedy that soon.
Gibby’s permit is in order, and his operation at Hollister is legal, reports the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
But Choate wants to know if Gibby plans to resume hauling whey to the pond, and how he plans to dispose of the whey when winter hits.
Acid whey is a watery substance extracted from milk during the production of Greek yogurt. For every four truckloads of milk that go through the front door at Chobani, three truckloads of acid whey leave through the back door.
Acid whey varies from “sweet” whey - a byproduct of cheese - in that few solids are left in the byproduct. Sweet whey is used to make protein powders and infant formula. Acid whey is used primarily as an additive to livestock feed.
Even if the operation is legal, the whey stinks, commissioner Mills said Thursday.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” he said.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hollister grange hall, 2340 Main St.
Choate also wants to know why Hollister wasn’t consulted when Chobani’s building plans were proposed to the city of Twin Falls.
“We weren’t told anything about the acid whey dump at all,” Choate said. “Why weren’t we told? We may be isolated, but we aren’t dumb.”
City officials involved with the project did not respond to a request for their comment.