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Ranch to Abandon Water Operations

County will be left responsible with servicing west end users.

By Todd Yamashita and Brandon Roberts

Molokai Ranch will let funding for West Molokai water operations run dry within four to six months, leaving Maui County responsible for operating the abandoned water system, said the new Director for Hawaii State Office of Planning Abbey Mayer during a community meeting last week.

Most of West End’s drinking water comes from the Ranch’s well 17in Kualapu`u, passing through the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS) in Ho`olehua, and on to a treatment plant in Maunaloa. According to Mayer, Molokai Ranch uses several regulated and unregulated subsidiary companies to manage this and all other Ranch water systems.

Mayer said the Ranch is planning to “dispose of all water companies.”

2007 marked a frustrating year for the Ranch – the State Attorney General decided the company could no longer use the state owned MIS to transport water to West Molokai without undergoing a potentially extensive environmental assessment.

Late in the year, the Hawaii State Supreme Court ruled that the Ranch’s permit to draw one million gallons per day (mgd) from Well 17 was no longer valid and would not be renewed.

Drowning in water allocation setbacks the Ranch ultimately withdrew a proposed environmental impact statement which, if accepted, would have allowed the rezoning of La`au Point lands from agricultural to rural.

Molokai Ranch bet the farm, offering 25,000 acres and millions in cash to Molokai Land Trust, a private entity, in attempts to gain public approval for what would be the longest coastal development in Hawaiian history – a five mile footprint at La`au Point accommodating  200 to 300 homes marketed only to multi-millionaires.

The Ranch’s Well 17, stuck in legal limbo, was offered for sale to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) by Ranch CEO Peter Nicholas in February. As part of the deal, Nicholas stipulated that the department would renegotiate pumping and transfer rights with the State. Under contract, DHHL would then supply one mgd to the Ranch at cost.

“We believe that under this arrangement there are many opportunities for MPL and (DHHL) to form a closer working relationship,” said Nicholas in the offer letter.

But Mayer said the Well 17 deal was recently declined by DHHL leaving the Ranch to announce financial abandonment of the water system.

Gov. Lingle, Mayer, Sen. Kalani English, Rep. Mele Carroll, Councilman Danny Mateo and Mayor Charmaine Tavares, met in Honolulu last week to discuss the Ranch water situation. During discussions, Gov. Lingle made it clear that the state would not be liable for Ranch water. According to Mateo, she said that it if the service to West End residents was interrupted, the problem would defer to county jurisdiction.

Mateo said it was a smart move on the part of Molokai Ranch to shift the water issue. “People used to fight them (Ranch) for water, now they will have to fight the county.” He added that Mayor Tavares will conduct an assessment of the MPL system in the upcoming weeks.


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