Friday, March 11, 2005

Controversial Molokai plot
sells at auction for $3.1M

A New York City-based company bought a huge, controversial chunk of Molokai yesterday from part-time Molokai resident John McAfee, a software tycoon.

A $3.1 million bid by a woman representing the unnamed company won the 1,044 acres of Molokai land at an auction. The sale of the property is expected to close in about 30 days.

McAfee, an anti-virus software magnate, sold the acreage at Kawela after buying the land 2 1/2 years ago for $1.3 million. The property constitutes an ahupuaa, or ocean-to-mountain tract of land.


About 10 minutes before the start of the 1 p.m. auction, an estimated 200 protesters tried to push their way onto the property, about seven miles east of Kaunakakai. The protest was organized to drive down the auction price.

The protest seemed to have the opposite effect, however, said Jim Striplin, executive vice president of the National Auction Group Inc., the Alabama-based company hired to conduct the auction.

"We had 12 bidders by phone from the mainland, then we had ... 32 bidders on site," he said.

Molokai residents had been upset about the auction, so the company did not expect so many bidders, Striplin said.

"I think it is rather ironic that the reason we had so many bidders was the (negative) publicity."

"We blocked their way," said Maui police Sgt. Tim Meyer. There were no arrests and organizers regained order among participants.

As many as a dozen flak-jacketed officers from a police Rapid Response Team, some of them brought over from Maui to beef up security, "were standing by, but they were not used," Meyer said.

McAfee, 60, said he plans to continue living "one day at a time," dividing his time among his homes around the world.

"I was wildly happy about the result," McAfee said. "Whenever you can make three times (what you paid for a property), that's a good deal."

The winning bidder told auctioneers she wants a place to watch the whales swim by. Neither her name nor the name of the company was released. She and an unspecified number of other bidders arrived sometime after 7 a.m. on a private jet, according to an operations employee at Molokai airport.

When McAfee bought homes on Molokai a few years ago, he also spent money on computers for schools and other gifts for the community. All was well until national advertisements in January announced his plan to sell the land, including its ancient Hawaiian fishponds and other revered features. A firestorm of controversy erupted.

Activist Walter Ritte Jr., co-organizer of a series of community meetings and yesterday's protest, has said McAfee upset some Molokai residents by lying about his plans for the land.

"He came here as a good guy, saying he's not going to be developing or speculating, and everybody welcomed him," Ritte said in a previous interview. "I think that's important to try and understand how people are viewing him."

Ritte has dismissed McAfee's notion that local residents do not like "rich haoles" moving to the island.

"There's a lot of rich haoles on this island" who do not provoke anger, Ritte said.

McAfee said he thinks he angered the community six months earlier by purchasing an anti-drug advertisement taking residents to task for not taking action against illegal drug activity in their neighborhoods.

Ritte has dismissed that as the cause. Neither he nor other protesters could be reached yesterday.

Ritte has said he was never concerned about the controversy sullying Molokai's image as the Friendly Isle.

"This is not the Friendly Isle," he said.

"We're very, very guarded now. We've been ransacked so many times that ... we used to give aloha as unconditional. Now it's very conditional -- you have to earn our aloha."

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