Buying back Molokai

As the battle over the Molokai Ranch master plan rages on, a newly formed group is working on a plan to ensure that BIL International’s investment portfolio will never again concern the Molokai community.

They want to buy the ranch.

Yes, all 65,000 acres of it, including the Kaluakoi Hotel, the Lodge, the tentalows, the Mo`omomi dunes, the Naiwa Makahiki grounds, the Nature Conservancy preserve, the industrial park, the town of Maunaloa, the ballfield in Kaunakakai, numerous wells and reservoirs, the burial grounds at Kawela, the birthplace of Hula, and La`au.

The idea may be radical, but it’s certainly not new. The current Molokai Enterprise Community (EC) group is famous for collaborating with Molokai Ranch on the MPL Master Plan, but eight years ago, the EC’s project ideas reflected a different mentality. EC Project Number One was to “purchase /acquire land from offshore owners for the community,” and the EC’s vision statement specifically blasts the “plans of offshore landowners to develop projects that may not be compatible with Molokai’s environment, lifestyle, or culture.”

The Community-Based Master Land Use Plan is EC Project Number 47.

Ranch attorney Isaac Hall has said he sees no “alternative income generator” to La`au, but some of the original designers of the EC application say Molokai had plenty of choices.

“Eight years ago we had alternatives,” said Mahealani Davis at a meeting for “consulted parties” to the MPL Master Plan, “but now they’re all out the window because all the eggs are in the Master Land Use basket.”

“Literally hundreds of people came to three meetings a day to develop real, value-based development,” she said, “but now all our projects are dead in the water while this one is being financed. The community-based process has turned into Frankenstein.”

Molokai won the special federal designation of “Enterprise Community” (EC) eight years ago out of an applicant pool of 160 communities. Their application proposed 40 projects in Molokai’s ten year strategic plan.

“Our vision statement proposed a way to take care of the island of Molokai – a way to prevent us from becoming strangers in our own land,” said Karen Holt, director of the Molokai Community Service Center (MCSC).

“Buying the ranch may seem farfetched – and it’s more money than any of us have – but I believe there is enough aloha on this island, and certainly enough fierce protectiveness. There’s got to be a way.”

Although the Buy the Ranch (BTR) group opposes La`au development, they see La`au as just one example of why foreign ownership is detrimental to the Molokai community. At a recent meeting the group discussed the aspects of the MPL Master Plan unrelated to La`au, including other development and community expansion on the 9,810 acres which MPL will retain.

“As long as you have to make profits for multinational speculators, you don’t have control over your own destiny. That has been the story of Hawaii for 200 years,” said Holt. “This is a millennium opportunity to look backward while we’re looking forward.”

The group wants to begin by proving that Molokai has the commitment and energy to handle the lands once they are purchased. The first step is a grassroots buy-in. Then they are hoping to attract the interest of investors like philanthropists or conservation groups who would be interested in returning control of Molokai to the community.

Buy the Ranch believes Molokai citizens need to make a financial contribution, even if it is not a big one. The problem is that it is difficult to fundraise without knowing a set price for the buyout of the ranch.

“It’s the chicken and the egg – How can you ask for money if you don’t have a buying price?” asked Ron Kimball at last Wednesday’s BTR meeting. Whether Molokai Ranch is willing to negotiate with BTR is unclear at this point.

Moreover, the value of the Ranch depends on the ability to sell its land for development. If the La`au Point development plans are thwarted the price of the property will drop considerably. When and how BTR plans to step in and solve the problem is yet to be determined.

“This is a really good idea, but what is the timeline?” asked Wayde Lee, who at the last meeting expressed concern about BTR’s current lack of an action list or a schedule. BTR also working on developing a credible plan to manage the lands once purchased.

To facilitate the purchase of MPL lands, the BTR group has organized into three committees. The Fundraising Committee’s objective is to raise the funds to make the purchase, the Business Plan Committee is developing a plan to use in running the property after it is purchased and the governance committee is working on the model legal structure and board selection process for the entity that will own Molokai Ranch.

BTR meets Wednesdays at 3:00 at the Molokai Community Service Council and the public is encouraged to attend.


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