Ranch a No Show at Commission Meeting
Potential looms for up to 400 millionaire homes being developed along the pristine coastline at La’au Point
Sacredness of the La’au and the Ranch’s threatening “Doomsday” plan just some of the community concerns
KAUNAKAKAI — The absence of Molokai Ranch along with the Ranch’s published threat to bring its “Doomsday” plan down on the community if its controversial La’au development plan is not approved were some of the hot topics covered at the Molokai Planning Commission’s January 30 evening meeting at Kaunakakai School.
Residents turned out to share with the Commission members their comments on the Ranch’s 800-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for its proposed luxury residential development at La’au Point where 400 homes potentially could be built.
The three and a half hour meeting was a continuation of the Commission’s 5-hour January 24 meeting at which residents also provided comments on the DEIS.
The public comments are important to the Commission as it prepares its own set of comments on the Ranch’s DEIS. All comments from the public must be received at the Ranch’s office by the February 23, 2007 deadline.
Less than two hours before the Commission meeting, Ranch Vice President John Sabas sent an e-mail to the Planning Department advising that the Ranch would not be represented at the Commission’s January 30 meeting. Sabas went on to say that that Ranch officials attended the Commission’s January 24th meeting “only as an observer” and “to hear comments related to the La’au DEIS that the community may have.”
Matt Yamashita, co-director of the Alternative to La’au Development Committee (ALDC) raised this subject. Yamashita provided the Commission with lengthy written testimony supporting his claim that the Ranch and Molokai EC did little to diligently pursue alternatives to the La’au Point project.
“The DEIS tries to present a strong case that the ranch and EC did in fact examine alternatives, but this is not the case,” claimed Yamashita. “At best the Ranch walked through the motions of looking at alternatives, while real efforts to find alternatives were purposely suppressed and invalidated (by the Ranch)”
Planning Commissioner Lance Dunbar, former manager of Molokai’s Bank of Hawaii branch, seemed impressed with the scope of Yamashita's testimony, and assured Yamashita that his testimony “did not go unnoticed” by the Commission members.
“Alternatives to a proposed action in any EIS is one of its main brackets and it does carry a lot of weight with the Land Use Commission (LUC)” Dunbar said. He urged Yamashita to pursue this issue with the state Land Use Commission (LUC).
The LUC is the state agency that will determine whether or not the Ranch’s Final EIS adequately addresses all the substantive issues raised by concerned Molokai residents and others.
The LUC has assured the Molokai community that it will hold its meeting on Molokai to determine if Ranch’s Final EIS is adequate. If the Final EIS document is determined not to be adequate, the Ranch will be required to start the public review process over with a new Draft EIS document.
It’s anticipated that the LUC won’t schedule such a meeting until the summer contingent on when the LUC receives the Final EIS from the Ranch.
MORE DEFICIENCIES EXPOSED IN RANCH DRAFT EIS
Sybil Lopez, a member of the EC Board who does not support development at La’au, lugged her 800-page DEIS document to the podium and told Planning Commissioners that Ranch’s plan for affordable housing was “very vague and needed to be expanded on”.
She also took exception with the Ranch’s consultant who concluded that property taxes would not increase on Molokai as a result of the 200 multi-million dollar homes proposed at La’au.
Lopez also was not impressed with the depth of “economic impact analysis” in the Ranch DEIS.
The endangered ihi ihi fern found at La’au, was an issue raised by several testifiers, including a beautiful ‘oli (chant) shared with the Commission by Noelani Lee, a young community leader and Executive Director of a local non-profit agency.
Lee also expressed concern about impacts being experience on the health of Molokai’s fishponds as a result of the island’s dwindling fresh water resources. Mervin Dudoit supported her sentiments
The ihi ihi is classified as an endangered plant by the federal government.
LA’AU A SENSE OF PLACE
Kawila Hanchett, a young teacher born on Molokai, pointed out that the DEIS lacked an adequate assessment of impacts created when disconnecting people from place.
“In western thought, we view place as a commodity, as real estate,” Hanchett eloquently proclaimed. “In Hawaiian thought, place is ohana. There is a spiritual connection and tie to people, the indigenous people, and the place they inhabit.
Hanchett, went on to explain that Hawaiians were not in good shape health-wise and economically because “they have been disconnected from their Ohana lands and therefore their spiritual health is compromised and their health on every other level.”
“What you do to La’au, you do to us,” said Hanchett. “There is no disconnecting people from place.”
The final person to testify before the Commission was Vanda Hanakahi, who is a highly respected cultural specialist. She was born on Molokai and raised by her grandparents in what she described as “culturally rich lifestyle”.
Hanakahi spoke of the sacredness of La’au and it being a place rich in marine life and cultural history that led La’au to be referred to with two Hawaiian words specific to Molokai that are a metaphor for “wealth of Molokai”.
For five minutes, she testified to the cultural significance of La’au, and shared knowledge from chants over 900 years old that were passed down to her from kumu John Kaimikawa. As she spoke softly on behalf of herself and her kupuna, the audience listened intently and in silence.
Hanakahi recalled ancient chants proclaiming La’au a sacred place where kupuna chose to close their Makahiki ceremony.
“I know from my upbringing that no place is randomly chosen by our kupuna to be sacred….and once a place is designated as sacred, it is sacred.”
SILENT MAJORITY SPEAKS
Lawrence Aki, a Native Hawaiian, who served on the Land Use Committee that worked to develop components of the Master Land Use Plan, advocates an alternative for the La’au development.
“Peter Nicholas is lying plain and simple,” Aki told the Commission. “He told us on several occasions that the community would make the decision on La’au” Aki also mentioned that Nicholas often boasted that he had Molokai’s silent majority behind him and La’au Point. Well I haven’t seen that,” concluded Aki.
Little did Aki know that the silent majority would make its position known on La’au the very next day at a community-wide election held to fill two board seat openings on the Molokai Enterprise Community Board.
The two incumbents Claude Sutcliff and OHA Trustee Collette Machado, supported the Master Plan with its oceanfront, luxury home development at La’au Point. The two leading challengers, Bridgett Mowat and Leila Stone, ran on a platform of no development along the pristine shoreline at La’au Point.
There were 1,284 residents who turned out to cast their ballots at Mitchell Pauole Center. The election was well administered under the watchful eye of representatives from Oahu’s League of Women Voters.
The voter turnout was impressive considering the fact that only 1,170 residents turned out on election day to vote in last year’s general election.
The Ranch did its best to convince the silent majority that its La’au Point development was the way to go by sending out its impressive professional produced DVD to residents a few weeks before the election.
Several Ranch vans delivered voters to the election site.
POLITICAL MUSCLE RANCH’S ALLY
For the past couple of years, the Ranch and the Enterprise Community co-sponsored meetings around the island while developing a Master Plan for Ranch lands. At nearly every public meeting, those attending said “DO NOT DEVELOP AT LA’AU”.
The Ranch and the Enterprise Community Board elected to ignore the message and moved forward with the La’au development plan, hoping to push La’au through on the strength and influence of their political allies. The influence peddlers who lent their support to the development of up to 400 homes at La’au before the community had even finished coming up with a final environmental impact statement are: Senator Daniel Inouye, Governor Linda Lingle, DHHL Chairman and Lingle appointee, Micah Kane, and the OHA Board of Directors.