Eviction Notice Threatens Mule Ride
Almost two years of legal disputes between the Sproat family — owners of Kalaupapa Rare Adventures mule ride — and landowner R.W. Meyer, Ltd. have come to a head with an eviction notice for the mule operators. Both parties are now claiming ownership to the Kalae property where the mule barn has stood for more than 40 years.
Paul Meyer, President of R.W. Meyer, Ltd., said Kalauapa Rare Adventures’ lease ended in January 2017 and since then, the company has not paid rent and refused to negotiate a new lease. The Sproats say they have a title to the land so they don’t need to pay rent.
“…Our `ohana holds the allodial title and pay the taxes of the land that our business is on, therefore, as the true landowners, we are not responsible for paying rent to anyone,” said Kalehua Sproat-Augustiro, co-owner and operator of Kalaupapa Rare Adventures, in a statement Saturday.
Meyer said an eviction notice was served to Kalaupapa Rare Adventures on March 20.
“This is not about greed or stopping a business from operating mule rides or tours to Kalaupapa to share the history of Molokai,” said Meyer. “This is about good business practices and fulfilling our responsibility to our shareholders and the 900 living descendants of R.W. Meyer. Every day that Kalaupapa Rare Adventures operates without a lease agreement, we are put at risk, and they have refused to make any attempts to pay rent or even respond to our requests to negotiate a new lease. They left us no choice but to evict them from our property.”
Meyer also cited Kalaupapa Rare Adventures with failing to show proof of liability insurance, which leaves R. W. Meyer at risk for potential lawsuits due to injury, the company claimed.
But Sproat-Augustiro said they are operating legally.
“Our business is conducted professionally and in conformance with the law,” she said. “In order to operate in Kalaupapa, we are required to have liability insurance.”
Last Saturday, family and friends of the Sproats sent up tents at the mule barn in a show of solidarity. They had heard the eviction might be planned and had no intentions of leaving.
The late Buzzy Sproat operated the famed mule ride for more than 40 years, and his family has owned the business for 25 years. R.W. Meyer has had lease agreements with the mule ride operations for the same amount of time. Sproat’s daughter, Sproat-Augustiro, is now continuing her father’s legacy, owning and operating Kalaupapa Rare Adventures with her brother, Sale Sproat, and mother, Marlene Sproat.
Meyer claims his company made numerous attempts to make contact and “good faith negotiations” with the Sproats over the last two years but received little response.
Last February, the Sproats went public with concerns over access to the Kalaupapa trailhead through Meyer property. R.W. Meyer had placed a lock on the gate to the trail, which they said was for liability reasons and to protect their land from poachers and illegal entry. The gate also blocked the mules from Kalaupapa.
At that time, the Sproats also said the Meyers had asked for a rent hike that would double what they previously paid, potentially shutting down the business.
Meyer said his company had granted reduced rent in past years to assist with repairs to the mule barn as well as documented financial need from Kalaupapa Rare Adventures. The Sproats paid $1800 per month in 2016, according to Meyer. But he claims at the end of 2016, when R.W. Meyer proposed a rent increase to $3,000 along with 20 percent of fees collected per hiker, Kalaupapa Rare Adventures didn’t respond with the requested documentation as to why they couldn’t afford the rent increase.
“The only responses R.W. Meyer has received are various non-legal filings claiming R.W. Meyer has no rights to their land and in fact, must pay the Sproats damages that on January 9, 2017 demanded $5 million in gold and silver, and on March 8, 2017 demanded $50 million,” said Meyer.
The two companies are now involved in a heated battle over the land and future of the mule ride operation.
Sproat-Augustiro’s sister, Brandi Sproat-Tilini, took to Facebook last week with a call for support for her family’s business.
“With our backs against a wall and in our attempts to keep our company running, we did extensive research and genealogy and found out that we had ancestors that were tied to these very lands and were indeed the land patent owners,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “All our hard work proved fruitful when we finally obtained the deed to OUR property.”
But the court ruled in favor of the Meyers.
On July 31, 2017, a federal magistrate found that Kalaupapa Rare Adventures failed to prove their rights to the land, and on Jan. 10 of this year, the Second Circuit Court issued a Writ of Possession to R.W. Meyers, ruling against the Sproats, according to Meyer.
In addition to legal rights to the property in question, both companies claim Hawaiian and familial ties to the land.
Sproat-Tilini said called the property kuleana land in her Facebook post, also citing her dad’s stewardship of the property during his lifetime, carried on today by family members.
The Meyers also have a long history on Molokai. Rudolph Wilhelm Meyer of Germany came to Hawaii in 1850, married Chiefess Kalama Waha and they settled on Molokai, according to the family’s statement. In 1854, Meyer purchased from the government more than 200 acres of pastureland at Kalae, where he built a large family homestead, raising eleven children with his wife.Their descendants now manage more than 2,700 acres of family owned land and rental properties, according to R.W. Meyer.
Meyer said they have been contacted by other businesses interested in running escorted tour operations to Kalaupapa from the location and that they hope to continue the tradition.
“My great grandfather, Rudolph Wilhelm Meyer, was the first superintendent of the Kalaupapa Leper Settlement,” said Meyer. “We would like nothing more than to continue sharing this experience and the rich history of Molokai and Kalaupapa with our visitors. But, we need to do this in a responsible manner with a company that honors and respects what we have agreed upon, and keeps our visitors safe.”
Meyer said R.W. Meyer has a memorandum of understanding with the National Park Service and the Department of Health operating in Kalaupapa and both organizations will continue to have access to the settlement through Meyer property.
In a video the Sproat family released last year, Marlene Sproat talked about how much the business means to her family.
“I can’t just give this whole thing up,” she said in the video. “It’s my husband’s legacy… I want to carry on that legacy, especially for our children… We’re here to share the aloha with others, especially those that come from all over the world… We have the privilege taking people down by mule.”
Meanwhile, Meyer said he hopes Kalaupapa Rare Adventures will vacate the property, while the Sproats said they have no plans to do so and remain open for business.
“It’s unfortunate that corporate entities are continuing to try to push native communities off our `aina,” said Sproat-Augustiro. “We look forward to this issue being settled in court. Until then, we will remain on our `aina and will conduct business as usual.”