Legislators introduce bills to condemn Molokai Ranch.
By Molokai Dispatch Staff
Read the Bill – HERE.
Last week, lawmakers introduced a bill to both the House of Representatives and the Senate that would authorize the condemnation of Molokai Ranch. The purpose of the bills is two-fold: to designate funds for potential purchase of the land, and to authorize the Governor’s power of eminent domain to acquire land owned by Molokai Properties Limited if negotiations with the landowner cannot be reached.
House Bill 1295 was introduced by State Representative Mele Carroll, who represents Molokai.
Senate Bill 1201 was introduced by Senators J.Kalani English, Jill Tokuda, Shan Tsutsui, David Ige and Mike Gabbard.
“This deserves discussion,” explains Sen. English. “It’s important to the Molokai community.”
The bills have passed their first readings in both the House and the Senate.
Molokai Ranch, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore-based international investment company GuocoLeisure Ltd, terminated normal operations April 5 last year. In doing so, it shuttered many of island’s businesses, including the Molokai Lodge, Kaluakoi Golf Course, Maunaloa Town Cinemas, and Maunaloa gas station. The closure left 120 residents unemployed.
“It’s a piece of property that’s caused a lot of discussion within this community because it’s something that was looked at as an economic driver,” said Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona in an interview.
The bills also state that Molokai Ranch has denied island residents access to subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering on its properties. Covering more than 50,000 acres, roughly a third of the island, ranch lands contain numerous places of historic, cultural and agricultural value, including heiau, ceremonial sites, and ancient taro loi and Hawaiian fishponds.
One of the necessary prerequisites of condemnation is insuring the decision is for “public interest.”
The bills state that the legislature finds it in the public interest to protect and preserve Hawaii's historic and cultural heritage.
But Lt. Gov. Aiona has his doubts. “I’m not even sure it passes that test,” he said.
“The community has to state its voice and its position in regards to this bill,” he continued. “I don’t think there’s a consensus within this community as to exactly what they envision with the property of Molokai Ranch and what they want as a community in regards to the development of the property.”
Sen. English also emphasized the need to establish a clear public purpose before the bill would move forward.
Turtle Bay Precedent
The identical bills are closely modeled after Act 140 (SB 2423) signed into law by Governor Lingle in June of last year. Act 140 authorized the Governor to acquire the hotel and other developed and undeveloped lands that make up the 850 acre Turtle Bay resort located in the Kahuku community on Oahu’s north shore.
The Act authorized the Governor to use the state power of eminent domain to condemn the Turtle Bay lands if she was unable to negotiate a sale within a reasonable time period.
In last year’s State of the State address, Gov. Lingle emphasized how important the Turtle Bay purchase is for the general public and the north shore Oahu community of Kahuku.
“I believe this is a once-in-a-generation chance to preserve both a lifestyle for thousands of residents, and a part of Hawaii that millions the world over have come to love and identify as the real Hawaii,” the Governor told Legislators.
Crunching the Numbers
The Molokai Ranch property is worth an estimated $200 million dollars according to a 2005 report by Honolulu-based appraisal firm, the Hallstrom Group.
Lt. Governor James “Duke” Aiona expressed concern about the financial obligations of condemning the land, especially in today’s economic downfall. “This is an outright purchase – it’s not as easy as condemning a property and paying fair market value,” he said.
Both bills note that UPC Wind pledged $50,000,000 to purchase Molokai Ranch land and rights to establish a wind farm.
“We think Molokai is a venue that could have that type of renewable,” confirmed Lt. Gov. Aiona. “We are committed to bring in renewable and making it a priority.” He suggested, however, that preservation of the land, alone, is not sufficient reason to buy Molokai Ranch’s property. “It’s such a vast amount of land, and I don’t think you need all of that just for one renewable energy project. That’s why the community is going to have to decide, what are you going to use it for?”
The community has also been working with other large private investors on pledges that would contribute significantly to the purchase of MPL’s land holdings, according to Karen Holt of Molokai Community Service Council.
“The community continues to pursue partners for the purchase of Molokai Ranch lands for the purpose of initiating projects designed to compliment Molokai’s economic recovery plan,” says former Molokai Planning Commission Chair DeGray Vanderbilt. “These include bringing back many of the businesses GuocoLeisure shut down including two hotels, the resort golf course, and gas station.”
He says the community is also actively pursuing efforts to reopen the Kaluakoi Resort Hotel that has been closed since 2001.
The reopening of these businesses will employ approximately 240 people, and reduce Molokai’s 11.6% unemployment rate to approximately 2% and give Molokai the lowest unemployment rate in the state, according Vanderbilt.
Condemning any property is a lengthy process, as lawmakers are quick to point out, and there’s no guarantee at this stage that the process will see completion. But it should “see movement in the next two weeks,” assured Sen. English.
To follow the progress of the bills, visit http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2009/lists/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=1295 for HB1295 or http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2009/lists/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=1201 for SB1201.