Molokai Community Unites Against Development
More than 200 Molokai community members showed state representatives that they would not bow down to the interests of large foreign corporations. Residents showed up at the Kulana `Oiwi halau last Tuesday to tell the State of Hawai`i Office of Planning (OP) why a large real estate development shouldn’t be allowed on the island’s west side.
Molokai Ranch, owned by foreign conglomerate Guoco, is asking the State of Hawai`i Land Use Commission to reclassify La`au Point lands from agricultural to rural zoning. This reclassification would be a major step in allowing the development of 200 high-priced lots on lands that Hawaiians deem sacred.
Three OP staff members, including the office’s director Linda Thielen, met with community members to gather input. The information will eventually help the OP to provide advisory support to the governor and the State Land Use Commission (LUC) regarding Molokai Ranch’s application.
The LUC has the final say whether to deny or approve the Ranch’s request to reclassify the land.
Over a year ago Gov. Linda Lingle proclaimed support for the controversial development, a decision some say, puts the Molokai community at a disadvantage.
“The governor coming out in support of this project … has circumvented the rights of many on this island,” said Ho`olehua homesteader Glenn Teves.“It’s as if what we say doesn’t matter,” he said.
But Thielen assured community members that the OP would take everything they heard “very seriously.”
In a meeting filled with emotional statements, community members disclosed several detrimental shortcomings of the proposed development including water shortages, desecration of sacred grounds, and Hawaiian rights and endangered species violations.
Hawaiian rights activist Walter Ritte and Josh Pastrana opened the meeting with a traditional conch blowing ritual, while Opu`ulani Albino finished the ceremonial protocol in Hawaiian chant.
Penny Martin presented a brief history of Molokai Ranch and a few or its failed business enterprises, including the shutdown of several eco-tour camp sites and dwindling employment opportunities for island residents.
“Do we need to be rescued by some big foreign corporation?” asked Karen Holt, the executive director of the Molokai Community Service Council.
Holt was one of the original community members who helped Molokai receive Enterprise Community (EC) designation back in 1998. The Federal Government designated 20 communities nation wide to receive millions in federal grants intended to reinvigorate small communities with depressed economies. Molokai was one of the 160 communities that applied, and one of the 20 which received the designation.
Matt Yamashita presented a video which he says appropriately reflects the community’s position on the La`au plan. It included Ranch organized meetings where most, if not all community members testified in opposition to the company’s plan.
Yamashita’s video says that despite the overwhelming community opposition to the La`au plan, the EC and Molokai Ranch continue to falsely broadcast that the plan has “broad base community support.”
Molokai Ranch has promised to reopen the Kaluakoi Hotel using funds from the sales of the proposed La`au Point lots. The Ranch says it is the only way it can fund the 35 million dollar renovation project.
“A trade-off that the community finds unacceptable,” said Yamashita in the video.
“It’s too sacred of a place to be dealing and wheeling as part of a deal,” said Ritte. “This community does not want La`au (plan).”
“Hawaiians do not randomly choose land and say it’s sacred,” Hanakahi said.
She explained to the OP staff the cultural and religious traditions in La`au point. There are a lot of underwater heiau in La`au. Hanakahi said the mana (energy) of those heiau is to attract fish. “It has not changed over time,” she said.
On La`au point there is a native fern that grows in only five parts of the world, the `ihi`ihi lau`akea. It needs special conditions to grow and thrive, and water is a major part in those conditions. Noelani Lee gently walked up to the front of the crowd saying she would like to share a chant about this delicate fern. She then exploded in a powerful Hawaiian chant, touching many in the audience.
Lee said that there are several endangered species in La`au, and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) doesn’t address the issue. Besides the `ihi`ihi, she also mentioned monk seals, two species of turtles and certain birds that are on the endangered list.
Malia Akutagawa pointed out that the development’s major infrastructure will directly impact the environment. Federal law is very clear regarding endangered species. Critical habitat is defined as feeding, behavior and breeding grounds. In no point does the EIS specify that these resources will be protected, she said.
As a Burial Council member, Akutagawa is also concerned the development in La`au may repeat what she has seen in Hokulia, South Kona, where hundreds of burials were desecrated. In La`au, no burial treatment plan has been made. Akutagawa said that people who frequent La`au have seen exposed remains of ancient Hawaiians.
Teves said the EIS has not evaluated the full information available. He asserted that there wouldn’t be enough water for both Hawaiian homesteads and La`au. “Molokai Property Limited (Molokai Ranch) has no secure water sources,” he said. “All of their water is in question.”
Teves believes the new land zoning approval will deny others of their water rights. “Unless you can supply and assure the homesteaders can have water,” he said, “you cannot allow anybody else to have water.”
The department of agriculture is allowing Molokai Ranch to run their water through the farming system to supply La`au point. “This is wrong,” Teves said. The system was designed to address the homesteaders’ need for water. It’s not enough to supply La`au and the 7,600 acres of homesteaders in Ho`olehua, he said. That water will be needed in the future and the homesteaders won’t be able to take it back. He said the only solution is to set the water aside to guarantee the rights of homesteaders.
But the water problems didn’t stop there. Teves said Molokai is about 30 percent below normal rainfall. In the last 15 years, rainfall has dropped 20 percent from the previous 15 years, he said. “The writing is on the wall, if we have only two wells for Kaunakakai and one is already salty, what (are we) going to do?” he asked.
Steve Morgan disclosed that despite La`au point being hailed by Molokai Ranch as the “last development” on Molokai, there are several sites here ready to be built that the community is not aware of.
Current subdivisions on Ranch lands allow for the development of six additional hotel sites, three more condominium sites, and an additional golf course. Other development opportunities include approximately one thousand acres of rural land which could potentially allow for 400 additional homes to be built. Morgan said that nowhere in the EIS is there a cumulative impact report for these potential developments.
Morgan also revealed that the potential maximum build-out of neighboring subdivisions, Papohaku and Moana Makani subdivisions would adversely affect shared water resources. According to Morgan, homeowners could exercise their right to subdivide their properties increasing the potential number of homes from 450 to 1500. “This has been ignored by the Molokai Ranch in the EIS,” Morgan said.
Morgan said Molokai Ranch designated one thousand gallons of water usage per household a day. But according to him, the current usage for that area is three thousand gallons a day. “So clearly that plan is way off course,” he said.
Moki Kim said that the water is so valuable it cannot be counted in dollars. “Water is our commodity of exchange,” he said.
“It is life,” Kim said. “We were created in it, many of us will die in it.” Kim told the OP staff that if this development goes through it will be the beginning of the disappearance of the Hawaiians. “If this development goes through we lose our language,” Kim said. “We lose our language, we lose our culture.”
Bridget Mowat quoted Alten Arakaki as saying that “our struggle here is not just economical or social struggle, it’s about who we are as an island people, about our existence or extinction.”
Thielen said that the OP would return to Molokai to continue dialogue in the future. Official LUC hearings are expected to begin this fall.