Lingle leads team to help unemployed prepare
A team of officials from various state agencies is headed to Molokai tomorrow to address the concerns of the roughly 120 employees at Molokai Ranch who are expected to lose their jobs when the property closes its operations by the end of the month.
The response team will help with workers' questions on future employment, homestead leases, health insurance and other issues, Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday.
The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Rapid Response Team and Department of Human Services officials will meet with Molokai Ranch employees tomorrow at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Maunaloa Tri-Plex theater to provide information on unemployment insurance, job training and placement and medical benefits.
"We'll be over there on Thursday with a lot of state resources to try to help people through this tough time," Lingle told reporters yesterday.
"Everything that we're sending over to Molokai is not about what's going to happen in five years or one year, but what's going to happen at the end of 60 days to these people."
The team headed to Molokai includes staff from the Human Services, Health and Labor departments as well as the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Preliminary counts show about 30 employees are homesteaders or their relatives are, Lingle said.
"We want to make certain that nobody loses their home through this process," she said.
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations also is reviewing its lists of vacancies on Molokai and the rest of Maui County, and will determine if Molokai Ranch employees are eligible to be hired for those positions, she said.
Another concern is the operation of the Molokai Irrigation System, operated by Molokai Ranch. Lingle said the owners were meeting with the Public Utilities Commission this week because the water system is considered a public utility.
She noted that Molokai Ranch pays an annual amount into a fund for the irrigation system that subsidizes homesteaders' water rates.
"With them declaring that they're walking away -- whether they continue to pay that or not -- the impact on the homesteaders water rate is an issue for us," Lingle said.
Molokai Ranch owner Molokai Properties, a subsidiary of Singapore-based GuocoLeisure Ltd., announced the planned closure on Monday, citing financial difficulty. Owners blamed the lost revenue on community opposition to its proposed luxury development at Laau Point.
Lingle said she had not yet had a chance to talk with the owners about their decision.
Some community members said they felt the move was aimed at pressuring residents and state officials into supporting the development plans.
Lingle said she is convening a special task force to study the broader impact of the closure and the factors that led to the decision.