Proposal for Ranch Purchase
A company called Lamplighter Energy has proposed the purchase Molokai Ranch to grow and export hibiscus to South Korea. Lamplighter CEO Andre De Rosa said wood pellets from the hibiscus is a renewable substitute to burning coal, and his energy company has the investors and contract with an organization in Korea to sell the product.
Molokai Ranch, owned by Singapore-based land holder owner GL Limited, went up for sale last September at a price of $260 million, and its 55,575 acres represents one third of Molokai.
De Rosa sat down with a small handful of residents last month, filmed by Akaku, and shared his plans, which he says he has been doing on a one-on-one basis with the community.
“We’re getting to the point where we have our contracts in place, we have our financing in place, we’re ready to formalize the offer and move forward,” De Rosa told residents at the meeting in the Akaku video.
His plan for Molokai Ranch involves splitting the Ranch’s acreage into two categories. He said 30,000 acres of shoreline and valleys would be set aside for community use. The remaining 25,000 acres would be used for farming his tall and fast-growing variety of hibiscus. He proposed revitalizing Hale O Lono Harbor for international export to avoid trucking the product to Kaunakakai Wharf. To address the lack of water on Molokai’s west end, he said he will build small desalinization plants using reverse osmosis and dehumidification technologies. He said if an entrepreneur doesn’t want to market the salt byproduct locally, he can sell it to Korea to melt ice on their roads in the winter.
De Rosa said he also plans to initiate reforestation of the West End with native trees and plants to attract more moisture to the area.
“We think that between reforestation, dehumidification and reverse osmosis, we think we can get to a point where we’ll recharge the aquifer,” De Rosa said. “We need to fix the land.”
As for development, he said he’s not in that business but would likely revitalize the existing infrastructures of Kaluakoi and the Maunaloa lodge for farmer housing and company work quarters. He also mentioned he’d heard a need for additional affordable housing. He added he would want to put the ag portion of the land into a trust to prevent future development.
De Rosa’s proposal has been met with mixed reactions among the residents who have heard about it, and some are criticizing the low key approach as a lack of transparently and public information.
“If it wasn’t for our effective coconut wireless on Molokai, I wouldn’t have known that a potential buyer of Molokai Ranch was on-island and planning to talk at a community event,” said resident Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who attended the small meeting last month. “I don’t think entering our community this way was a good idea if his intention was to make a good first impression on our community.”
She said De Rosa seemed to come well-prepared.
“To his credit, he did read our plans and didn’t foolishly rush into purchasing the Ranch without first seeking support from our community, and for this reason, I believe our community should be proud to have a reputation of strength and kuleana to our `aina,” she said. “Our Molokai community is the author of our story, of our future.”
Others are leery of De Rosa’s plans for international export and desalinization.
Resident Walter Ritte, who also present at the meeting, asked De Rosa for time.
“So far I’m not jumping with joy on this one,” said Ritte in a Dispatch interview. “But it’s a proposal…. it’s better than guys wanting to come develop, but he’s got a long way to go… At the meeting I asked him if he would not pull the trigger for six months to give the community time to get that their act together [with a plan] and verbally he said OK.”
Ritte said he and others have also asked De Rosa for information in writing and so far they have not received a response.
Ritte said in the meantime, he’s working with a community group called Molokai Pule O`o that has the goal of bringing the island together with a plan to present to potential buyers of Molokai Ranch as a starting point for negotiations.
“If we just sit here, we’re going to get what we get, but if we actively try to figure out what’s the message we want to give buyers… it’s a good starting point for us to have a conversation,” he said. “We know there’s going to be other buyers so we need to be prepared as a community and be ready to tell our story and articulate our future, not be thanking the next person who comes to ‘save’ us.”
He said the plan will be modeled after the original community plan for Molokai Ranch, minus the La`au Point development.
“We have two economies, we’re the only island that recognizes two: cash and subsistence,” he said, adding that subsistence accounts for one third of the food on Molokai tables. “We want to create an economy that’s going to build subsistence. We want to go from one third to one half [subsistence] and create economic jobs that will support the enhancement of the natural resources such as fish in the ocean, taro on the lands… Molokai has historically has been famous as Molokai `Aina Momona, we are the fat land, and that’s who we should be in the future.”
With that in mind, he said members of Molokai Pule O`o are looking for conservation partners as well as government funding and support that could partner with a business-minded proposal for Molokai Ranch.
Ritte added that another reason for asking De Rosa for six months is to create and train a group called Aloha `Aina Fellows — a younger generation of Molokai leaders who will take a summer course at the University of Hawaii Maui College Molokai campus. The full-credit course begins in mid-May, he said, and will train students in “personal and community development to get them involved in governing their own island.”
“It’s a passing of the torch of the old players who’ve been playing defense for over 40 years to now say to the young people, ‘don’t make the same mistake as the rest of the islands are making,” Ritte said. “There’s no excuse, develop something unique for your future.”
Ritte said the Aloha `Aina Fellows will then visit each moku on Molokai to gather feedback on the plan to present potential buyers.
“So this is a huge shift — the selling of the Ranch is going to be a major event for this island and we’re trying to be as ready as possible,” said Ritte, adding Lamplighter Energy isn’t the only interested buyer. “We have some really good buyers that have potential and they want to know what plan is the community going to support before they come in.”
De Rosa initially said at last month’s meeting he hoped to finalize the sale as early as July, but recognized the need for community support.
“I haven’t heard 100 percent that everyone’s for it and I haven’t heard, more importantly — because I don’t think everyone’s going to be for it — that we have a vehicle in place to resolve differences, to hold us accountable and to be open and transparent with the community,” said De Rosa. “Once that’s established, I will feel comfortable moving forward.”