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Governor Approves Condemning of Oahu Lands

Commentary by DeGray Vanderbilt

There was overwhelming support from over 300 residents who attended last week’s Molokai community meeting on Aug. 20, for the Maui County Council to authorize the Mayor to utilize the county’s power of “eminent domain” to acquire the developed and undeveloped lands held by Molokai Properties Limited (Molokai Ranch).

The county’s use of its power of eminent domain is supported by a recent precedent.

A few weeks ago on June 4, 2008, Governor Linda Lingle signed into law Act 140. This law was enacted by the state legislature to give the governor the right to use eminent domain (condemnation) for the public good as a means of acquiring lands privately owned by a real estate development company.

The new law states that “the governor or the governor’s designee shall immediately initiate negotiations to acquire the properties held by Kuilima Resort Company.” These properties are more commonly known as the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu.

Act 140 approved by the Governor further provides the following:

1. It is in the public interest to protect and preserve Hawaii’s cultural and historical heritage, and the proposed expansion of the Turtle Bay Resort on the island of Oahu is contrary to public interest;

2. It is in the public’s interest to acquire the public lands for preservation by purchasing those lands exercising the State’s power of eminent domain

3. Financing the acquisition may be by one or more of the following means: a) appropriations made by the legislature, b) general obligation bonds, c) exchange of public lands, d) federal funds, e) private funds, financing or donations, or f) any other means of financing the governor or the governor’s designee may negotiate.

State legislators concluded that the plan the Turtle Bay developer has for the Kahuku community is “contrary to public interest.” This conclusion mirrors how some Maui County officials and many Molokai residents feel about Molokai Properties Limited’s (MPL) “hunker down,” self-serving business plan the company is currently imposing on the Molokai community.

MPL is a wholly-owned subsidiary of GuocoLeisure Limited, a billion-dollar foreign company based out of Singapore. The company’s new plan for Molokai calls for shedding the company’s employee and utility operations expenses by shutting down operations, and land banking its property until better economic times roll around.

A recent document approved for publication by MPL’s CEO Peter Nicholas characterizes the new business plan currently being imposed by GuocoLeisure on our small island community of 7,300 residents as the company’s “doomsday scenario” for Molokai.
 
County Has Same Power as State
The County has the same powers as the State to initiate eminent domain proceedings.

At last week’s meeting on Molokai, there was overwhelming support for the county to exercise its power.

Molokai Councilmember Danny Mateo, who attended the meeting along with county spokesperson Mahina Martin, was asked to have the County Council introduce a county resolution similar to Act 140 enacted by the state legislature.

Such a resolution could find that new shutdown plan of Molokai Properties is contrary to public interest, authorize Mayor Charmaine Tavares or her designee to negotiate the acquisition of all or a portion of the developed and undeveloped lands owned by Molokai Properties, and grant the mayor the authority to exercise the County’s power of eminent domain to acquire the lands if a negotiated sale is unsuccessful.

Funding the “fair value” acquisition sale price that is paid to MPL could happen through a consortium of individual and corporate investors, as well as government and other funding sources, such as non-profit investment entities with missions to perpetuate the protection of natural resource, cultural, historic and social environments.

A “Buy the Ranch” campaign being waged by the community allegedly has $100 million on tap through a combination of funds pledged by an alternative energy corporation and an environmental investor.

Governor’s Support for Turtle Bay
In the Governor’s State of the State speech to legislators earlier this year, she listed the following Molokai-sounding justifications, which led her to initiate a drive to acquire the lands at the Turtle Bay Resort for public good:

I believe this is a once-in-a-generation chance to preserve both a lifestyle for thousands of residents, and a part of Hawai‘i that millions the world over have come to love and identify as the real Hawai‘i.

The purchase of this important property will create an opportunity for the community to shape a vision for this part of the North Shore.

I believe in my heart that this is the right thing to do for those of us living today, and for those who will be born in the decades ahead.

And I believe this will be a defining moment for all of us – a moment that communicates to young people that we care more about their future than about our present.

The residents on the North Shore call it “keeping the country, country.”
 
I call it fulfilling commitments to future generations…and I ask everyone listening today to join me in this effort.
 
It (the North Shore) is a place we take visitors when we want them to experience the “real” Hawai‘i.
 
It is a place that gives us comfort just by being there, even if we don’t go there very often.
 
And it is a community of residents who have chosen the North Shore because it provides a slower, more rural way of living.

 
The Governor concluded by telling the legislators that it “would be naive for anyone to think this land acquisition (of Turtle Bay) will be easy.”

An invitation to last week’s Molokai community meeting was extended to Governor Lingle. She did not attend.

DeGray Vanderbilt is a 30-year resident of Molokai and recently stepped down as Chairman of the Molokai Planning Commission.

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