New Beginnings on Molokai
Leaders discuss opportunities which may come from Ranch closure.
By Todd Yamashita
Molokai community leaders are joining efforts to find solutions for the island’s economy in the aftermath of Molokai Ranch’s closure.
“Yesterday was about the Ranch, today is about the people of Molokai,” said Councilman Danny Mateo.
A few days after Ranch CEO Peter Nicholas abruptly announced the company’s shutdown, soon-to-be former employees rallied in Kaunakakai, holding signs blaming environmental activists for the loss of their jobs.
However, as the finger-pointing begins to subside, community leaders are stepping up efforts to re-shift the focus on where to go next.
“There’s something good about the Ranch getting out,” said DeGray Vanderbilt former chair of Molokai Planning commission. “It’s an opportunity for people to come together to work on … various plans.”
“We need to hold a community forum talking about where we go from here,” said Mateo, who hopes individuals will be motivated to come together.
At least 30 people did just that last Saturday, at Molokai Community Service Council (MCSC) conference room. Their goal is to filter through thousands of pages of community plans spanning almost three decades, to piece together a single comprehensive document which will chart the course of Molokai’s future.
“Molokai has a destiny,” said Kauwila Hanchett, Molokai Youth Center instructor. “This is where we need to be at this point in time.”
Hanchett, who has two sisters who will be laid off by the Ranch as early as April 5, said “the Ranch failed because it was not pono.”
“I want Molokai to be an example,” community advocate Bridget Mowat said. “This island is special.” Her words echoed what many others at the meeting said. Mowat put education, sustainability, and environments stewardship at the top of Molokai’s list of priorities.
“It’s good to know that we’re on the same track,” said homesteader Walter Ritte, briefly displaying at least ten large community plans, all of which he said he participated in creating.
Ritte explained that the plans’ emphasis on subsistence and sustainable practices is what has set Molokai apart from all other state plans. At least 38 percent of Hawaiians on Molokai depend on some means of subsistence to survive, Ritte said.
Among the plans being reviewed are the Ranch’s Master Land Use Plan, Alternative to La`au Development Committee plan, Molokai Community Plan, and Molokai Enterprise Community (EC) plan.
“A lot of these things have been done, we don’t need to start from scratch,” said Kahualaulani Mick, who helped facilitate the meeting. He said that the EC plan had been hijacked by “special interests,” but overall it was a great plan, and the community should take it back.
Taking back the most important aspect of the EC plan is exactly what MCSC executive director Karen Holt plans. She authored the original EC plan, in 1998. Holt said the community had made buying back Molokai Ranch property the plan’s top priority.
“We can buy the Ranch,” said Holt, noting that UPC Wind has already pledged $50 million.
While most at the meeting agreed Ranch could be bought Steve Morgan, of environmental group Hui Ho`opakele `Aina, stressed that action must be taken immediately.
“It’s fire sale and we have to act now,” Morgan said. Guoco Leisure Limited, the Singapore based company which owns Molokai Ranch, is facing poor publicity, a stalled development, and falling stock prices, which Morgan said leaves very little time to make a deal.
“I’d say we have less than a month to get this thing together,” he said.
Getting it together will include meetings all week long, beginning with a homesteaders meeting with UPC April 1 at Lanikeha Hall in Ho`olehua at 6 p.m., and a community advocates meeting on April 2 in the QLCC conference room at 6 p.m..
A series of youth organized meetings will take place on Tuesday, April 8, at Kaunakakai Elementary School; Wednesday, April 9 at Maunaloa Elementary School; Tuesday, April 15 at the Kilohana Community Center, and Wednesday, April 16 at Lanikeha Hall. The meetings, open to everyone, will be from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.