Friday, September 3, 1999

Press release photo
Pioneer Mill has been in operation since the mid-1860s. Through
he years, it has helped thousands of laborers get a
foothold in the economy.

Lahaina cane
workers, lands face
unpredictable future

With Pioneer Mill's last harvest,
'it's going to be all dry --
no more nothing'

By Gary T. Kubota


LAHAINA -- Uncertainty is rising about the future of agriculture and tourism, as Pioneer Mill Co. Ltd. prepares to finish its last harvest within the next several days and end Lahaina's more than 138 years of sugar cane production.

Across the slopes of the West Maui Mountains, abandoned sugar cane fields are turning brown, with occasional dust storms sweeping across acres of barren land and sometimes invading residential resort areas.

Residents and workers fear the lack of greenery could discourage visitors from returning to Lahaina.

"When you look at the mountains, it's sad," said Sam Kadotani, 76, who was born and raised in Lahaina.

Pacifico Abilay, 61, a Pioneer welder who will be retiring after the last harvest, said the hillsides look unattractive and bare without sugar cane.

"It's going to be all dry," he said. "No more nothing."

While about a dozen of the 190 Pioneer workers plan to transfer to Amfac's diversified agricultural operations on Maui, many say they're uncertain but hopeful about their job prospects.

"It's going to be difficult, but I'm going to do whatever I can do to get a job," said Tomas Ragudo, 53, a welder who will be looking for work.

By Gary T. Kubota, Star-Bulletin
Workers at Pioneer Mill Co. Ltd. are in the final days of
production. The mill will close after the season's sugar harvest ends.

A number of employees said they have saved enough for retirement, and most of their children are adults. "My two daughters are college graduates," Abilay said.

Begun during the waning days of whaling in Lahaina in the 1860s, the plantation here helped to develop the fortunes of some major Hawaii companies and served as a foothold for thousands of immigrant workers seeking a new life.

Some 1,600 laborers were employed by Pioneer Mill in 1910, half of them immigrant contract laborers.

The company provided a hospital for employees and schools on the plantation.

The late industrialist James Campbell, whose wealth now lies in Campbell Estate, went from carpenter to sugar grower helping to start the company.

Growers providing sugar cane to the mill included Dwight Baldwin and his brother Henry P. Baldwin, who later became a major figure in the founding of Alexander & Baldwin Inc.

Amfac's success in sugar enabled it to expand its operations, leading to the development of the planned resorts at Kaanapali.

Kadotani recalled when sugar was the major industry in Lahaina and his father worked as an operator of a tugboat pulling barges of raw sugar from Kaanapali to freighters offshore.

He remembered also some major Hawaii sports figures who lived on Pioneer plantation, including boxer Dado Marino, baseball player Wally Yonamine, and swimmer and movie star Buster Crabbe.

ILWU official Melvin Chang said the sugar industry provided a vehicle for many immigrants with limited education to work at decent-paying jobs with the help of the union, and also brought a multiethnic diversity to the islands.

"No other industry allowed an illiterate immigrant from the Philippines to get such an opportunity in the U.S.," Chang said. "This was a very different experience than being exploited and impoverished as migrant farm labor in the U.S." Facing low sugar prices from foreign competition, Pioneer lost $7 million in the last five years and will lose $2 million in 1999, according to Amfac.

Amfac plans to continue its 500-acre coffee operation, employing about 20 workers, and has plans to use some 1,500 to 2,000 acres north of Lahaina for diversified farming.

Amfac spokesman James Boersema said the company has planted some corn and plans to grow alfalfa on about 400 to 500 acres of land.

Dust from fallow fields
irks nearby residents

The county is reminding landowners
they must control dust and erosion

By Gary T. Kubota


LAHAINA -- Some residents are saying not enough is being done to control the dust from abandoned sugar cane fields in West Maui.

"There needs to be more water trucks to keep the dust down, or some kind of irrigation line should be put in temporarily," said Eve Klute, a Puukolii resident. "This is hurricane season, and the wind is whipping up here."

Klute said Amfac has developed windbreaks and planted a buffer between condominiums and the former fields, in response to complaints about the dust in Kaanapali.

The county Department of Public Works is sending out letters to landowners reminding them they have an obligation to maintain their parcels.

"We're telling the landowners that they do have a responsibility to control the dust and erosion from their land," said Howard Hanzawa, a Public Works official. "Please do something about it."

While landowner Amfac/JMB Hawaii has replanted some of the land, some sections of its 6,000-acre plantation remain bare.

Amfac, which is closing the plantation after losing several million dollars in the past five years, has been working with the county to develop erosion plans, public works officials say.

Officials note that some of the land was leased and belongs to other major landowners, such as Bishop Estate and the state.

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