Molokai Ranch: A Push for Eminent Domain

By Steve Morgan

What is Eminent Domain?

Eminent domain is a legal process that allows the government to condemn private lands and take possession of these same condemned lands for the better good of the public community.

Is the land taken without cost?

No, but this process does force the condemned lands to be sold at fair market appraised value rather than at a highly inflated speculative price.

Why Eminent Domain?

Molokai Ranch has abandoned its primary responsibilities to our island and placed a large burden upon the Molokai community. This is evident in the current water crisis where Molokai Ranch is attempting to dump its three utility companies and leave the burden on residents and taxpayers. Molokai Ranch's abandonment of its tourist and other commercial facilities in favor of land banking, and its abrupt layoff of hard-working and loyal workers demonstrates complete disregard for its responsibilities to the community.

Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens.  Since Molokai Ranch has abandoned its own responsibilities, it is legitimate for the community to ask that the government step in and assume responsibility.

What would happen after condemnation of Molokai Ranch lands?

Once the government condemned Molokai Ranch lands, these lands could remain under government jurisdiction or more realistically be sold to a private buyer.  If sold to a private buyer, taxpayers would not be saddled with the expense of owning and managing the Ranch's lands.

Who Might Want to Buy the Ranch from the Government?

There appear to be several interested buyers. Among these is FirstWind (formerly UPC Wind), a Boston-based wind utility company with operations in Hawaii. A campaign to buy the entire Ranch on behalf of the community was launched almost a year ago by the Molokai Community Service Council, to which a $50 million donation was pledged by the FirstWind company.  FirstWind made a commitment to donate all of the Ranch lands it purchased to the Molokai community. In turn Firstwind would lease the lands necessary for their windmill farm.  They have estimated that the lease revenue to the community would be between $4-5 million dollars a year.  These monies would be invested back into the community, helping to create jobs and maintain existing infrastructure.

If the Molokai Ranch lands were placed in the hands of the community, would this be a good thing?

If the Community owned the Ranch's assets, no utility shutoffs would ever be threatened against our neighbors.  The Lodge and the Hotel could be reopened, restoring jobs and small business opportunities.  Controversial development proposals like the La'au Point subdivision would be a thing of the past.  Water resources would be protected from speculation and the Ranch’s water system would be repaired. And the community could finally begin working to restore the environmental damages caused by a century of land mismanagement.

What is the next step?

The next step is to come to the community meeting on August 20 at 6:00 p.m. at Mitchell Pauole Center.

This is Molokai's chance to take responsibility for its own future!



4 Responses to “Molokai Ranch: A Push for Eminent Domain”

  1. fuzz says:

    There are two key issues here. Cost of the Ranch lands, and whether we really want wind farms on the island.

    First the money.

    ED requires that the private landowner be paid market rate for the land being seized. Even given the current political and water situations, it is unreasonable to think that half of a pristine Hawaiian island is worth only $100M, when one third of an acre in Maui sells for $20M.

    Assuming the ranch acts in a logical (profit maximizing) manner… If it sees that the government is going to use ED to take its land from it at a low-ball price, it will sell its lands (probably broken up) to the highest private bidders. It seems very unlikely that the ranch would allow its assets to be seized at a fraction of their actual value.

    I think people need to realize that if the community or local government is going to purchase (through ED or other means) the ranch, it needs to raise closer to 200-250M and probably finance those funds as well.

    Given the current strength of the dollar versus Asian and euro currencies, at a $100M price point, there would be numerous buyers for the property.

    Secondly… wind farms.

    Have you guys ever seen what a 140 turbine wind farm looks like? They don’t look like 140 kites flying in the sky in harmony with nature. We are talking about massive steel structures, often 120+ ft high. This type of installation will permanently change the face of Molokai in a much more visible way than is being discussed.

    Further it is important to consider all the infrastructure that this installation requires, from AC/DC inverters, electricity grid and storage systems, and a massive undersea cable for intra-island electricity transfers.


    My goal in mentioning these facts is that it is important, for the Molokai community, to truly understand the pros and cons of each proposal. So far I have only heard the rose colored version from the proponents… its dangerous not to consider both sides of the story.

  2. Francobenz says:

    The government needs to step in and take the property. No private company or person should ever control the basic needs of the island. The taxes we pay are there for the government to make sure that these basic services and there for all the people all the time. Put the future lots up for sale and trust me they will sell off. The state takes control of the water and everyone is happy, except for the mean owners of the ranch. Aloha

  3. halemalu says:

    i think the reason they didn’t make any money is because to stay there wasn’t affordable. if it has been offered 100.- to 150.- for the tentalows, they would have been occupied all the time. we need to remember that not all travelers are rich. most are on a budget.

  4. drhellyer says:

    If the State could afford to buy the ranch for 200 million dollars, the State could certainly pay for the purchase, upgrade and running of the utility companies. It would be simpler for the State to just buy the utilities and avoid the cost of buying the Ranch.

    The Ranch could not make a profit with hotels etc on Molokai and the State and community will be even less likely to make a profit from these typically private enterprises.

    The Lodge and Kaluakoi Hotels were never profitable and will never be. Having the State and the Community buy and operate these entities will not make them profitable.

    The conflict between MPL and the so-called activists have created the problem with the Utilities. Now the citizens of Molokai will have to pay for EIS etc with their water bill. Who took this to the Hawaiian Supreme Court and got a ruling requiring an EIS and voiding the rights of the utilities to a water source. We all know it was the so-called activists who would do anything to stop La’au. Stopping La’au was a good thing but it was done at the expense of jobs and the water and sewer system. We saved La’au but lost the jobs and now stand to lose the utilities.

    Stop the nonsense and get real. No one is going to buy the Ranch and turn it over to people who do not have the slightest idea of how to run a business.

    I even hear individuals suggesting that the Ranch sell the lots they have left to subsidize the water system to keep rates low. At the same time they do not want the Ranch to develop lots which is probably the only profitable business they could engage in.

    The Ranch is gone and we have to pick up the pieces. We can not do this with aggressive suggestions of this nature. Eminent Domain should only be used for the betterment of the people and not as a weapon.

    The “Buy the Ranch” people have not given an accounting of how much money has been donated. I would guess almost nothing has been donated compared to the price of the Ranch. The fifty million from the Wind Company comes at a price. It would destroy the beauty of Molokai forever.

    Lets think before we leap this time.

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