Molokai Ranch to quit island
Stung by rejection of its planned luxury project, the owner will lay off 120 staffers and seal off the land
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Molokai Ranch said yesterday that ongoing losses were behind its decision to close down operations by the end of the month and lay off more than 120 workers.
Molokai Ranch owner Molokai Properties, a subsidiary of Singapore-based GuocoLeisure Ltd., blamed the lost revenue on community opposition to its proposed luxury development at Laau Point.
The company is closing the 22-room Molokai Lodge, the Kaupoa Beach Village, the Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa gas station, the Maunaloa Town Cinemas and its cattle-rearing business.
In addition, the company said access to its property, more than a third of the island, will be closed indefinitely.
Some community members believe the move is a mean-spirited strategy by the company to pressure residents and state officials into supporting its development plans for the island.
The development plan called for construction of a 200-lot luxury subdivision on 500 acres of land at Laau Point, using the revenues to revive long-dormant Kaluakoi Resort. At the same time, the ranch would have set aside 50,000 acres for open space and conservation easement.
State officials will travel to Molokai on Thursday to provide employees with information on unemployment insurance, job training and placement, and medical benefits.
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Word that Molokai Ranch plans to shut down operations and bar access to its property -- more than a third of the island -- shocked employees and island residents yesterday, some of whom believe it is a mean-spirited strategy by the company to force development.
Molokai Ranch owner Molokai Properties, a subsidiary of Singapore-based GuocoLeisure Ltd., said yesterday it will shut down all operations by the end of March and lay off of more than 120 workers over the next two months, citing lost revenue caused by community opposition to its development plans for the island.
"This is a desperate attempt right now," said Glenn Teves, a Molokai extension agent for the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture. "This is another way of getting sympathy from the decision-makers. It's unfortunate that they have to use the people of Molokai as part of their master plan strategy."
The company is closing the 22-room Molokai Lodge, the Kaupoa Beach Village, the Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa gas station, the Maunaloa Town Cinemas and its cattle-rearing business. In addition, the company said access to its property, more than 60,000 acres, will be closed off indefinitely.
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"It seems to be a mean-spirited conclusion to punish a community that isn't ready to deal with the type of project the company wanted," said Maui County Council member Danny A. Mateo (Molokai).
"It was a shock to all of us, but it wasn't unexpected," said Walter Ritte, an activist and Molokai fish farmer. "It was set up to happen this way when Molokai Ranch gave this community an unreasonable all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it mandate when it came to the development."
The development plan called for construction of a 200-lot luxury subdivision on 500 acres of land at Laau Point, using the revenues to revive long-dormant Kaluakoi Resort.
At the same time, the ranch would have set aside 50,000 acres for open space and conservation easement.
Molokai Properties Chief Executive Officer Peter Nicholas said in a statement that the company has tried to work with the Molokai community for the past five years, but delays caused by opposition to the master plan have left the company unable to fund daily operations.
"The decision is purely a business one," Nicholas said. "We deeply regret to have taken this step as the main impact will be on our loyal employees. However ... without the prospect of an economic future for the company that results from the implementation of all facets of the master plan we are unable to continue to bear large losses from continuing these operations."
State Sen. J. Kalani English (Hana-East and Upcountry Maui-Molokai-Lanai-Kahoolawe) said that he hopes the company is not using the Molokai community as a bargaining chip in an effort to impose development on the island.
The closure will add to an already distressed employment situation for an island with the state's highest unemployment rate, said Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares. Molokai's jobless rate was 7 percent in January, versus 3.1 percent for the state.
"This is devastating news," she said, but added that it also could be an opportunity for Molokai to look at options for sustainability.
Last year the Ho'i i ka Pono campaign, led by the Molokai Community Service Council, began a campaign to raise $200 million to buy all of Molokai Properties Ltd.'s holdings. GuocoLeisure has said the land is not for sale.
On Thursday, state officials will travel to Molokai to provide employees with information on unemployment insurance, job training and placement, and medical benefits.
Lingle also announced she would convene a Molokai Action Team comprised of state, county and community representatives to identify additional opportunities to assist the displaced workers and focus on rebuilding the island's work-force base.