Hawaiian homesteaders concerned development will strain water resources
Tuddie and Kammy Purdy, who run Purdy's Macadamia Nut Farm on Hawaiian homestead lands that have been in their family for more than 30 years, want to see Kaluakoi Resort reopened.
But not if it means straining the isles' water resources to develop Laau Point.
"We have a consistent business, but we've had a lot less visitors since the resort closed," Tuddie Purdy said.
The couple's farm, which caters to tourists and is classified as an agritourism business, would benefit from the reopening of the resort, Purdy said. However, the family doesn't support reopening the hotel if it means further west side development, especially at Laau Point, he said.
The trade-off is too high," said Kammy Purdy, who is president of Ahupuaa o Molokai, a group comprised of Hawaiian homestead associations. Purdy, who represents Hawaiian homesteaders on the Molokai water board, said that she and others on Molokai who depend on subsistence agriculture to feed their families fear development near Laau Point will further strain limited water resources.
Molokai Ranch, the Friendly Isle's largest landowner and employer, is seeking state and county approval for a development plan that would turn 500 acres of Laau Point into an upscale subdivision, refurbish the long-closed Kaluakoi resort and give back more than 50,000 acres to the community.
The plan, which has been some three decades in the making, is seen by Molokai Ranch and supporters as a way of uniting the island's rural past with a more sustainable future. It's a move that either can be interpreted as a cease-fire in a 30-year-old war between Molokai residents and the island's primary developer -- or as the starting shot of a development battle the likes of which have never been seen before.
A development at Laau Point also could severely impact those who rely on subsistence farming to protect against downturns in Molokai's cash economy, said Steve Morgan, who farms commercial lime and lemons on the isle's west side and relies on the taro and seasonal vegetables that he grows to feed his family.
If Molokai residents lost their ability to fish, hunt, gather or grow their own foods, it would impair a tradition that has survived when other economic strategies on the island have failed, Morgan said.
"At least 50 percent of my food comes from subsistence," he said. "Subsistence is something that needs to be protected. It's a large part of the lifestyle on Molokai."
Subsistence has been Molokai's primary lifestyle for generations, said Yama Kaholoaa.
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Noah and Tarrah Horner and daughter Evarista, 5, were denied the right to subdivide their family's Hawaiian homestead lot because of a water shortage. CLICK FOR LARGE
The 61-year-old said that while he takes an occasional remodeling job, subsistence hunting, fishing and farming have supported his family, which includes seven children and 17 grandchildren.
"Even with a job, you still have to hunt and fish or farm on Molokai," said Kaholoaa, who estimates that subsistence provides 75 to 95 percent of his family's food.
Molokai Ranch understands the importance of subsistence to the isle's people, said John Sabas, general manager of community resources for Molokai Ranch and a resident of the isle for more than 30 years.
Development plans for Laau Point include numerous checks and balances to protect the aina and the ocean for all the people of Molokai, Sabas said. At Laau Point, water conservation restrictions will be the most stringent in Hawaii, he said.
Numerous restrictions on those purchasing homes in the development were written into the document, Sabas said. Covenants on property owners will include water restrictions, shoreline-use restrictions and environmental protections, he said.
Even with such proposals in place, many such as Scarlett Ritte believe that any more development on Molokai has the potential to rob Hawaiian homesteaders of protected water rights, a means for many of their livelihood.
"The land trust is supposed to protect the future of our community, but once this plan is in place, there will be a countdown to see how fast locals can't afford to live here," Ritte said. "You'll see, eventually the people on the land trust won't be Molokai people."
Noah and Tarrah Horner, a young Molokai couple, echo Ritte's concerns. The family, which has been trying to purchase a home since having a daughter, said they were recently denied the right to subdivide and build on family homestead property because of water limitations.
"Ever since I got out of school, I've been talking about building a home for my family on that land," said Noah Horner. "It was disappointing when they said that we couldn't do it. It confuses me how we can't use our water to build homes for ourselves, but they want to put up a luxury development."
The community has asked the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to study the isle's water challenges and the agency, which preliminarily endorsed the community-based land trust, has begun reviewing the isle's water needs.
While the issue of Hawaiian water rights in the community may be muddied with a variety of opinions, the issue is very clear to Molokai Properties Ltd., Sabas said.
"MPL will never go back to the community and seek more drinking water," he said.
While the ranch has discussed using brackish water to landscape properties and supply home owners with potable drinking water, many in the community are still leery about potential impacts and make no apologies about any apparent fanaticism when it comes to protecting long-fought-for rights for Hawaiian homesteaders.
Theophista Purdy, a Molokai kupuna who lived through drought in the 1940s, said protection of Molokai's water resources is vital to the community's survival. Purdy, who came to Molokai as a Hawaiian homestead bride decades ago and was the oldest kupuna to make a recent protest trek to Laau Point, said she has a need to share her institutional memories with the younger generation.
"When I first came to Molokai in 1944, we experienced water rations every two days," Purdy said. "On the third day when they opened up the water, we'd fill every container that we could find -- even the washing machine -- so that we'd have enough water to live."
Molokai Ranch's existing allocations are subject to reduction if they interfere with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands' rights to water in the future, and due consideration will be given to DHHL's projected needs, Sabas said.