‘Mothballing’ Molokai Ranch would be devastating
Molokai Ranch announced it will close its operations at the end of this month.
MOLOKAI residents, coping for decades with a distressed economy, have been dealt a severe blow by the announced shutdown of Molokai Ranch
, the island's controlling employer and landowner. The state should play a role to prevent excessive door-slamming that could be interpreted as retaliation against opponents of the company's rejected development plans.
Molokai Properties Ltd. announced it will shut down its operations at the end of this month, laying off more than 120 employees over the following 60 days. Peter Nicholas, its chief executive officer, said it intends to "mothball" the company's assets on its 60,000 acres, comprising 40 percent of the island.
The workers to be laid off account for nearly one-tenth of the island's private workforce. An additional 200 or more of Molokai's 7,500 residents work in the tourism industry, which will take a hard hit from the closure.
GuocoLeisure Ltd., the ranch's Singapore-based parent, plans to shutter the Molokai Ranch, the Kaupoa Beach Village, the Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa gas station, a theater complex, cattle ranching and maintenance operations. It said it also will close off access to its property. The company said land is not for sale, describing the shutdown as "land-banking."
"The decision is purely a business one," Nicholas said, attributing it to "unacceptable delays caused by continued opposition to every aspect" of a plan to construct a 200-lot luxury subdivision on 500 acres of land at Laau Point. Revenue from the development would have helped finance renovation of the Kaluakoi resort, a 144-room hotel that was closed in 2000.
The area contains archaeological and cultural sites that developers promised to preserve, but concerns about water were paramount. The state Land Use Commission was on the verge of rejecting the request for reclassification of the land in November when the company withdrew its 3,000-page environmental impact statement.
A month later, the state Supreme Court overturned a decision by the state Commission on Water Resource Management that had allowed Molokai Ranch to take more than a million gallons of water from a well in the island's central area.
Gov. Linda Lingle has announced the formation of a Molokai Action Team of state, county and community representatives to cope with the debacle. The team's work will be made most difficult if Molokai Ranch's parent company continues to oppose its sale to one or more buyers.