PHOTO BY KATE GARDINER / COURTESY OF MOLOKAI TIMES
A rally was held Friday by Molokai Ranch employees.
Fears follow news of closure
Molokai Ranch could sell off its 101 lots as residents wonder how the economy will fare
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The next step for Molokai Ranch after it shuts down operations Saturday would likely be to break up its land holdings and put them up for sale, according to an environmental impact statement filed by the company for its stalled Laau Point luxury home development.
The company is not commenting about its plans. But the EIS outlines what Molokai Ranch saw as its options if it wasn't allowed to proceed with its plan to sell 200 luxury home sites at Laau Point.
The company envisioned breaking up the 60,000-acre ranch into 101 parcels and subdividing some of its land to create up to 1,500 2- to 40-acre lots.
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COURTESY LEANDA RAWLINS
Molokai Ranch herd manager Jimmy Duvauchelle hopes to buy his former employer's herd of cattle and expand his family's business once the ranch closes. Duvauchelle, at top, is out on a ride with his daughters and granddaughters.
KAUNAKAKAI, Molokai » During breakfast at Kanemitsu Bakery & Restaurant, retired firefighter Jonathan Lindo's voice rises as he tells how his son is among 120 employees losing their jobs at Molokai Ranch -- layoffs that the company blamed on its failure to receive approvals for a luxury-home development at Laau Point.
Lindo blames the protesters who staged high-profile demonstrations against the project.
"It's either their way or no way -- no can find solution," he said last week.
The largest private landowner on the Friendly Isle announced last week it is closing the Molokai Lodge, the Kaupoa Beach Village, the Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa gas station, the Maunaloa Town Cinemas and the Ranch's cattle-rearing business by Saturday.
In addition, the company said access to its property, more than a third of the island, will be closed indefinitely. They blamed opposition that scuttled their plans for luxury homes at Laau Point late last year.
As Molokai residents brace themselves for the ranch's shutdown, fears are growing about what lies ahead for an island that already has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 7 percent.
Ranch officials declined to talk about the company's future other than that it plans to "mothball" its assets of more than 60,000 acres.
However, in its environmental impact statement for the Laau Point project, the company signaled what might happen.
In the document, the company said it has lost close to $37 million between 2001 and 2006. If the Laau Point project is delayed, the EIS stated, the company's "only alternative is to find ways to reduce its overhead by shutting losing operations and selling off the property over time."
Molokai Ranch's holdings are divided into 101 lots and 43,000 acres of agricultural land that could be subdivided into as many as 1,500 lots.
"The most realistic method of achieving maximum returns for its properties is to sell the 101 parcels and other subdivided lots to individual buyers who will pay the highest price," the EIS states.
According to the EIS, about 10 employees could continue to work for the ranch as the company sold off its lands.
"A great concern will be how the local economy will be impacted shortly after it loses support of the island's largest private employer and user of goods and services," said the ranch, which is owned by Guoco Group of Singapore.
The ranch, also known as Molokai Properties Ltd., said the 24,600 acres that would have been donated to a community land trust if Laau Point had been approved could instead be sold off as separate parcels.
"The impact (of selling the lands) would include a greater number of new land owners/residents, less community control of development ... no land trust and less financial support to the county and state," the EIS said.
Some hope a nonprofit Molokai group can buy the ranch lands.
The group Ho'i I Ka Pono, led by the Molokai Community Service Council, said it is working to raise money toward the purchase of the land estimated at $200 million.
Karen Holt, executive director of the council, said her group has received a $50 million commitment from alternative energy company UPC Wind and also has received other contributions.
"We're definitely working on it ... but it will take time," she said. "We want to purchase the land to control our destiny."
Holt said that while she knows the layoffs will be hard on families of workers, the island's residents have survived major layoffs -- the shutdown of Del Monte in the 1980s and the hotel at Kaluakoi in the early 2000s.
She said that in the past three years unemployment has dropped from double digits to single digits, including 6 percent last year.
"We don't need a huge fix," she said. "I think Molokai is solving its own economic problems very quietly under the radar."
Walter Ritte, a Molokai activist leading the opposition to Laau Point, said he has asked the Maui County Council to provide a planner to help develop a community master plan for Molokai.
Ritte said the plan would help to develop a common vision for the island and lessen conflicts.
Gov. Linda Lingle, who has been a critic of the state Land Use Commission, said the closure was not necessarily a result of poor economic conditions.
"It had to do with the land use process that ... takes years to get a decision," she said. "This has gone on for five years, with no end in sight, and they (ranch officials) had to make a financial decision."
Molokai businessman Steve Chaikin, who has owned an aquaculture business for more than 20 years, said the county has to look within at what will drive Molokai's economy, such as developing sustainable energies like wind farming.
Ranch herd manager Jimmy Duvauchelle is hoping he can purchase the herd from his employer and expand his family ranch.
But he knows it will be challenging, even with his 42 years of experience. "You need to be there 24 hours a day," he said.
Molokai resident Josephine Manaba said her heart goes out to the families facing layoffs, especially those who are sick and rely upon the ranch for medical insurance. "How are they going to get their medication?" she asked.
"Why can't everybody settle down, talk to the ranch and figure out how we can help?"
Lindo said the lack of jobs has forced many young people to live elsewhere and that he and his wife Elvi are getting old and want their children and grandchildren close to them.
Lindo fears his son will have difficulty finding another job on Molokai.
"My feeling is I want my family home," he said. "We want to see our grandchildren."