Maui County files suit to keep water flowing
Maui County asked the state court to intervene should Molokai Ranch shut down water service in West Molokai.
The ranch, doing business as Molokai Properties Ltd., would violate contractual agreements with the county dating back to 1978 if it ceases water and waste-water service, according to a breach-of-contract suit filed yesterday by attorney Margery Bronster on behalf of the county.
"Molokai Ranch refused to confirm that it will operate for any specific period beyond Aug. 31, 2008," said the complaint, filed with Circuit Judge Joel August. It asked "that Molokai Ranch be ordered to continue to operate and maintain water and wastewater systems."
Bronster said the county did not ask for an immediate court order since the company agreed this week to continue water service beyond its tomorrow deadline after an emergency water-rate increase.
Under the state Public Utilities Commission action, Molokai Public Utilities will charge $6.04 per 1,000 gallons, up from $3.18 per 1,000 gallons. Another ranch subsidiary, Waiola O Molokai Inc., was granted an increase to $5.15 from $1.85 per 1,000 gallons. The new rates go into effect Monday.
Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares said, "Molokai Properties' ambiguous responses have not offered reassurance nor raised the level of confidence for the residents that are affected. Certainly a wealthy company that has financially supported its subsidiaries should not simply walk away from legal and moral obligations," she said in a written statement. "Today's action further points to the seriousness of this situation and our commitment to hold the company accountable."
Molokai Ranch official Peter Nicholas said yesterday he had no comment. Nicholas wrote to the PUC that the rate hike is a temporary resolution, but the company will not operate the utilities indefinitely.
Bronster said: "The county wants to be in position to be ready in case Molokai Properties says temporary means three days.
"We are hoping there will be no need to seek a restraining order or preliminary injunction."
The company announced in March that it would shut down ranch and resort operations. It said later that it had assumed more than $1 million in net loss for the utilities services in the past two fiscal years and would cease operations tomorrow.
Bronster said Molokai Properties and its subsidiaries have signed 31 contractual agreements to operate a private water utility in exchange for approval of development plans.
The water and waste-water operations serve about 1,200 residents and businesses.