Molokai Ranch offers extension to public comment period on La`au Point project
KAUNAKAKAI — A few days after the January 10 Molokai Planning Commission meeting, Molokai Ranch issued a press release offering a 17-day extension of the February 6 deadline for government agencies and Molokai residents to submit comments on the ranch’s lengthy, 800-plus page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the controversial 200-lot, oceanfront residential project proposed for development along the shoreline at La`au Point.
The new deadline for receiving comments is February 23, 2007.
During a brief overview of the La`au Point project before the planning commission, John Sabas, General Manager of Community Affairs for the ranch, mentioned he had heard of a request to extend the public comment period 60-days. He said the ranch was not inclined to grant an extension and would stick with the February 6 deadline for receiving public comments.
Sabas’s initial decision came before hearing testimonies from a number of residents requesting the 60-day extension period. Testifiers alerted the commission that some government officials and agencies also had requested, or would be requesting, the ranch for the 60-day extension.
Near the end of the commission meeting, Sabas softened his stance and advised the planning commissioners that he would take the issue of the extension under advisement. Commissioner, Janice Kalanihuia asked Sabas when he planned to get back to the commission with an answer. Sabas said he didn’t know.
In the ranch’s press release announcing its 17-day extension, there was no mention of the 60-day extension requested by community members and certain government officials. Instead, the release quoted Sabas as saying: "This project (La`au Point) is extremely important to the people of Molokai and we want to ensure there is sufficient time for the community to review the DEIS and comment."
Anti-development activist Walter Ritte later said the ranch’s compromise was not sufficient. "We asked for a loaf of bread and they gave us crumbs."
Community members and certain government officials felt that a 60-day extension of the comment period was needed to allow "sufficient time" for review and comment on the complex document.
Public testimony before the commission
Planning commissioners received extensive public testimony on the ranch’s DEIS document at their January 10 meeting. Some testimonies touched on the major impacts of the project that were not addressed by the ranch. Others, like Kelly Richardson , questioned the quality of the DEIS document noting that the report contained a lot of "fluff", "redundancies" and "unanswered questions".
There were also testifiers expressing disappointment with the ranch employing its "old tactic of threatening the community" with the loss of ranch employee jobs if the La`au project is not approved.
The commission also heard testimonies, including an impassioned speech by Bryson Santiago, expressing frustrations over the ranch not listening to the community. The commission was told that those testifying at the open community meetings sponsored island-wide by the ranch were overwhelmingly against the La`au Point portion of the ranch’s Master Plan.
Initial comments by planning commissioners touched on the need for a more in-depth analysis of the projects the ranch had considered as alternatives to the La`au Point development . A concern was also expressed over the fact that the ranch failed to respond to many public comments received earlier in the environmental assessment process.
The ranch justified not responding to the comments determining they "were not relevant to the EIS for La`au Point; therefore discussion of the comments is not warranted", as noted in statements contained in the DEIS document.
According to commissioners, some of the comments the ranch elected not to respond to had to do with other components of the Master Plan inter-related to the La`au Point project. Commissioners also noted that the ranch failed to respond to comments on the cumulative impacts that may result from other projects on ranch lands that are already zoned or designated for major development.
Major additional development at Kaluakoi Resort and 400 houses at La`au Point
Steve Morgan, who is a longtime resident of the Kaluakoi resort, provided written testimony and exhibits to the commission acknowledging numerous hotel, condo, commercial and residential lots already designated for development on lands the ranch owns north of the existing Kaluakoi hotel property.
Morgan also testified that the 300 plus large agricultural lots already existing in the two major residential subdivisions at the Kaluakoi resort (Papohaku ranchlands and Moana Makani) are open to be further subdivided. He provided maps showing another 400 plus lots could be generated through further subdivision of the original large agricultural lots.
Morgan provided documents that showing a 6-acre Papohaku Ranchland lot, which was recently subdivided into two 3-acre lots. He presented a recent real estate ad listing one of the newly subdivided 3-acre lots for $1,600,000.
All of the potential additional residential development at the Kaluakoi resort is in addition to the 200 lots proposed at by the ranch at La`au Point.
Adding to the mass of potential development, the ranch’s DEIS document allows for up to 400 homes to be built on the 200 La`au Point lots.
Reasons for requesting the 60-day extension
Several testifiers explained the need for the requested extension period. They noted the complexity and length of the document, as well as, the fact that the Office of Environmental Quality (OEQC) published the first official notice of the DEIS on Saturday, December 23, two days before Christmas.
The December 23 publish date started the 45-day comment clock ticking as ohana were busy celebrating the holiday season.
OEQC is the state agency, which oversees the processing of Environmental Impact Statements for projects statewide.
"Forty-five days is not much time for anyone to do a quality review of such a lengthy document, especially when almost two weeks of the review period is consumed by the Christmas and New Year holidays " said Planning Commission Vice-Chair DeGray Vanderbilt after the January 10 commission meeting.
"The public’s involvement is crucial to the process," he said.
Most testifying before the planning commission supported an extension of the comment period. In addition, a package of letters from Molokai residents supporting a 60-day extension was hand-delivered to Tom Witten, President of PBR Hawaii, who attended the Molokai meeting. PBR is the ranch’s Planning Consultant for the La`au project.
Commissioners were also made aware of a January 9 Molokai Governors Advisory Committee at which the committee approved a motion to request a 60-day extension of the La`au DEIS comment period.
There were also reports that one or more state legislators urged Molokai Ranch to support the 60-day extension request.
State environmental law dictates a 45-day public comment period on Draft Environmental Impact Statements. Nothing in the law addresses an extension of the 45-day period, even if the applicant, Molokai Ranch, agrees to an extension.
There is some concern that any person commenting on the DEIS after the legally established 45-day comment period may jeopardize their right to challenge the adequacy of the Final Environment Impact Statement in court during the legal challenge period provided for under the law.
The ranch did not provide any insight on this legal issue in the January 15 press release announcing its decision to extend the public comment period 17 days. The ranch has no legal obligation to provide such information, even though the information would be helpful to those wanting to fully participate in the environmental review process.
Upcoming commission meetings
The next Molokai Planning Commission meeting to discuss the ranch’s DEIS will be held on January 24 at Mitchell Pauole Center beginning at 4:30 p.m. and running into the evening. If needed, the January 24 meeting will be recessed until the following day at a location that is to be announced. The January 25 meeting will also start at 4:30 p.m.