GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Above, a crowd of about 350 attended a hearing yesterday on Molokai Ranch's proposal for Laau Point.
MOLOKAI: JOBS VERSUS PRESERVATION AT ISSUE
Laau project debated
KAUNAKAKAI, Molokai » Residents were split yesterday over a luxury development in West Molokai during a 12-hour state Land Use Commission hearing drawing more than 350 people.
Some raised questions about the adequacy of Molokai Ranch's environmental study for its proposed Laau development, while others said the project would bring economic stability to Molokai.
The commission is considering whether to accept the environmental impact statement and allow the ranch to proceed with its request to reclassify some 1,113 acres. A decision is expected today after completion of public testimony.
A number of residents criticized the study for failing to adequately assess a number of issues, including the preservation of water resources, farmland and native Hawaiian rights.
About 100 people wore red T-shirts saying, "Keep Molokai Molokai" and "Aole Laau," meaning "no compromise on Laau," a place described as the "icebox" for subsistence fishing.
Molokai resident Vanda Hanakahi said the study failed to review the development's impact on historical fishponds and heiau.
"We have a sacred responsibility to malama (care for) that place," Hanakahi told the commission.
The ranch, also known as Molokai Properties Ltd., has offered to give 26,700 acres of land to a community trust and reopen the Kaluakoi Hotel as part of its development plan.
Supporters of the ranch's proposal, including the nonprofit group Ke Aupuni Lokahi Inc., said Molokai remains economically depressed and in need of employment, with 45 percent of families living below the poverty level.
"This project is the right opportunity," said Clement Reyes, a ranch employee. "It will help our island grow and keep our kids on the island if we choose to."
Colette Machado, an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee who has supported the ranch's plan, said she is looking for change on the island that will help to provide economic stability.
But the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Molokai Homestead Farmers Alliance and the Molokai Planning Commission said the ranch study is inadequate.
Molokai Planning Commission Vice Chairman Steve Chaikin said that although the ranch said it plans to develop 200 lots, it remains unclear how many single-family homes will be built.
Hawaiian homesteaders in Hoolehua who have had to cut back their crops because of previous droughts said the study fails to assess the impact of the development on water resources.
Homestead farmer Glenn Teves said the water use by the development has been underestimated.
"The numbers don't add up," he said. "Water is an unresolved issue."
Alton S. Arakaki, a University of Hawaii agricultural extension agent, said the quality of the soil at Laau is high in ranking for agricultural cultivation and should be preserved.