Life After the Ranch
Where is Molokai two months after the shutdown?
By Brandon Roberts and Todd Yamashita
While Monsanto and ex-Molokai Ranch workers rallied with signs drawing attention to job loss on Molokai, lawmakers and community leaders nearby discussed strategies which might help the workers get back on their feet.
The Ranch has opened its doors solely for ex-employees to lease Ranch related businesses and to hunt Ranch lands for subsistence, according to Abbey Mayer, director of the state Office of Planning.
Of the roughly 120 workers laid off by Molokai Ranch only five percent have found employment, according to Mayer.
Representatives from the Molokai unemployment office and MedQuest said they have seen no increase in requests for service, but expect it to increase by the end of the month. Unemployment for Ranch workers will begin May 22.
Mayer was tasked by Governor Linda Lingle to oversee the group which is known as the Molokai Action Team (MAT). Monday’s meeting was the second in an ongoing series of discussions amongst the 13 MAT members and the greater Molokai Community.
Not for Sale
Walter Ritte, said he supports the “Buy the Ranch” campaign, also known as BTR, which is being led by Molokai Community Service Council. Ritte asked at the May 5 meeting whether MAT members or Gov. Lingle would back the plan similar to the way the State is seeking to purchase Turtle Bay on Oahu.
“That (request) is like comparing apples to oranges,” Mayer said, adding that Turtle Bay was in foreclosure but had the ability to make a profit unlike the Ranch.
Mayer added that the Ranch is not for sale and that the company’s proposed La`au Point development is currently “in limbo.”
Lingle spearheaded a legislative move to buy Turtle Bay on Oahu, saying it would keep the North Shore country.
Open for Business?
The Ranch is currently accepting business proposals exclusively from ex-employees, according to Mayer.
MAT member and ex-employee Jimmy Duvauchelle said he is “making progress” on a business plan to lease approximately 17,000 acres, and buy the entire heard of Ranch cattle.
There is also a business plan in the works to buy the Maunaloa movie theater, but Mayer said the Ranch is skeptical of leasing operations that were not profitable.
Mayer said Joey Joao is taking ex-employees to hunt on Ranch lands, but that access is currently cut off to the public.
MAT discussed off-island businesses that have submitted proposals. Amongst them, Taro Dream, Incorporated, a venture-capital company, is looking to bring a dehydrator to the island to process locally grown dry-land taro and sweet potatoes.
Zhantell Dudoit proposed MAT look to “network with on-island agencies before looking outside.” She believes in supporting entrepreneurship, and said the Chamber of Commerce is a possible avenue.
The economic future of Molokai’s west end is up in the air. According to Keoni Lindo, part owner of The General Store in Maunaloa, the grocery store is taking a financial hit. He said he did not know how long they could keep their doors open. The only other Maunaloa businesses still in operation are the Kite Shop, Maunaloa Post Office, and Uncle Butch’s Taro Patch Jewelry.
Lindo is also a spokesperson for E`ola Molokai, a newly formed group of concerned citizens which consists mainly of Monsanto and ex-Ranch employees. E`ola Molokai held a road-side rally at Kulana `Oiwi during the MAT meeting. Lindo presented 417 signatures from people concerned about Molokai’s economy.
Another E`ola spokesperson and Monsanto employee, Dawn Bicoy said they are “consolidated voices of concerned people that would like a forum.”
Public Concern Muted
Organizers have touted MAT as a bottom up process meant to address public concern – however that process came to an abrupt halt Monday afternoon after MAT member Colette Machado sternly silenced attendees.
“You (West End residents) are not a member of this action committee; we have been so gracious to allow you folks to participate,” said Machado who interrupted the speaker mid-sentence.
Last week’s meeting attracted West End residents inquiring about the future of their drinking water which is currently managed in its entirety by the Ranch.
But Machado, in defending the Ranch, had only harsh words. “Don’t use this meeting as a vehicle to hold the Ranch hostage…. Don’t use this meeting to be proactive,” reprimanded Machado.
Mayer did not intervene with Machado’s outbursts.
MAT member Danny Mateo said Machado’s “outburst reflects the group’s frustration.”
He added that the team had recognized the problems, and are now ready to move on.
MAT will reconvene at 11 a.m. on June 16 in the DHHL conference room at Kulana `Oiwi to continue discussion on Molokai’s economic strategy. The public is encouraged to attend this meeting to share mana`o on acceptable planning.