County of Maui v. MPL Update
By Catherine Cluett
On August 29, the County of Maui sued Molokai Properties, Ltd. (MPL) in order to ensure that it honors its contracts with the county to operate and maintain water and wastewater systems on Molokai, as well as reimburse the county for the costs it has incurred in preparing for a possible emergency after the Ranch announced its plans to terminate water services.
Last Monday, MPL asked the court to dismiss the county’s suit on the grounds that the Ranch no longer had plans to shut down.
The suit is still viable, however, says attorney Margery Bronster, representing the County of Maui. “We don’t know whether they are just delaying the emergency, or eliminating it,” said Bronster last Thursday.
The Ranch, she argues, has given no indication of agreement to continue operating and maintaining the water systems, nor has it reimbursed the county as requested. The court will be hearing the motion to dismiss the suit at the end of the month, and the county has no intention of backing down, according to Bronster.
The county has also appealed the State’s ruling with regard to who should be responsible for dealing with a possible emergency if water utilities are terminated. In mid August, the state ruled that if the utilities were shut off, it would be county’s problem. Bronster doesn’t think so.
“We believe that was not consistent with either the law or the state’s constitution, which prevents the state from issuing an unfunded mandate,” she said.
The Department of Health also issued a ruling against MPL and its subsidiary utilities requiring that they not shut down water services. MPL’s response? According to Bronster, they don’t believe they have to abide by any orders that are “illegal.”
MPL’s lack of utility maintenance records is also causing difficulties, said Bronster. The state has many records to which the county currently lacks access. Bronster also suggested that Molokai Ranch may have destroyed some of these records, making investigations of the systems’ maintenance difficult.
“When the county issued subpoenas to the PUC in an attempt to get more information, the PUC said no,” added Bronster. This leaves the County guessing if MPL is actually maintaining the water systems as required.
Despite these uncertainties, Bronster remains confident in the county’s position. “I was thrilled when the county asked me to represent them,” she said.
The hearing for the County’s suit against MPL is set for Oct. 30.