Molokai Ranch’s imminent closure brings uncertainty
Workers contemplate their next step in a tight labor market
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The last roundup at Molokai Ranch is forcing some residents to corral their future options.
Cowboy Jimmy Duvauchelle said he is trying to work out a deal to lease some 6,000 acres of land and to buy the ranch herd. Bernice Traxler said she's just going to have to look for another job, but will probably wind up on Maui. The ranch will lay off 120 staff members and close off its property. The island has suffered a series of layoffs dating to the 1970s and 1980s.
To help the employees, the state is sending a team of officials to Molokai tomorrow to answer questions on future employment, homestead leases, health insurance and other issues, Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday.
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GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Molokai Ranch livestock manager Jimmy Duvauchelle said he will miss the ranch lifestyle after 42 years of working as a cowboy. The ranch plans to halt normal operations on April 5.
MAUNALOA, Molokai » Cowboy Jimmy Duvauchelle said it's a sad thing to see Molokai Ranch heading for the last roundup.
But Duvauchelle, the livestock manager who has worked for the ranch for 42 years, said he understands the difficult financial situation faced by the ranch and will miss the ranch lifestyle.
"We do everything you see on TV -- the roundups, cattle branding and breeding," he said.
Once a 60,000-acre ranch that raised thousands of cattle, the ranch has decreased its herd to about 800 to 900 head and had been hoping to grow its visitor business.
The ranch, also known as Molokai Properties Ltd., has experienced setbacks in receiving permits in its attempt to develop a 200-lot luxury development at Laau, a coastal area that some native Hawaiians say is important for their subsistence living.
Although employees have been given 60 days' notice as of Monday, the final day of normal operations is scheduled for April 5, and the shutdown will include its Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa Lodge, Kaupoa Beach Village, and ranch operations.
The road leading from Maunaloa to Hale O Lono Harbor will remain open, ranch official John Sabas said yesterday.
The island with a population of a little more than 7,000 residents has suffered a series of layoffs dating to the 1970s and 1980s, when multinational pineapple producers began leaving the island.
The unemployment rate on Molokai, which stood at 7 percent in January, is expected to climb significantly as a result of the latest layoffs, according to state labor statisticians.
Some say one of the biggest impacts from the shutdown will be the loss of some 24,000 acres of potential trust lands promised by the ranch, if it received approval for its Laau development.
Bernice Traxler, who has ridden the ups and downs of the Molokai economy during the past two decades, said she's just going to have to look for another job, hopefully on Molokai but she knows the job search will be difficult.
"There's hardly anything here," she said.
Traxler said for nine years before she found a job on Molokai, she rode on a ferry from Molokai to Lahaina to work as a night cleaner at the Westin Maui in Kaanapali.
Traxler said for the past 3 1/2 years, she has been working as a sales representative at Molokai Ranch's service station and golf shop at the Kaluakoi Golf Course.
She said she may have to commute to work to Maui again or move to Maui. Canadian visitor Bernice Magee said she and her husband George, who stayed at a condominium at Kaluakoi, stopped coming to Molokai about 10 years ago when Kaluakoi Resort shut down its golf course.
She said they started visiting again five years ago when the golf course reopened.
Magee said she likes the rural atmosphere but doesn't know if they'll return if the golf course closes.
"We come here for the lifestyle ... but you also need something to do," she said.
Some Molokai residents believe the best solution is to see if a nonprofit Molokai group could buy the ranch lands. Rather than retire, Duvauchelle is planning ahead. His family is trying to work out a deal to lease some 6,000 acres of land and to buy the ranch herd. "It is going to be a big challenge, but I know the herd," he said.