Rate Payers to Take Legal Action Against Ranch

Water users allege extortion, racketeering, and unlawful business practice.

By Catherine Cluett

Rate payers affected by recent water rate hikes have sought legal action against Molokai Properties, Inc.(MPL) to resolve a situation residents feel is outrageous. Preparations for a rate payer’s suit come just weeks after the County of Maui filed its own suit against MPL.

After Molokai Ranch threatened in June to cut water services to 1,200 residents, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved exorbitant water utility rate increases, as high as 178%. State representatives said the unprecedented move was necessary in order to keep the Ranch’s faltering utility companies from going under.

Many Molokai residents disagree. In fact, they believe it’s illegal, and have found a lawyer interested in representing the group.

Rate payers or land owners affected by the Ranch’s water rates are encouraged to fill out a Prospective Client Questionnaire in preparation for signing their names on the law suit. The questionnaire addresses such topics as agreements and interactions between the individual and MPL in relation to its subsidiary water utility companies.

If sufficient interest in expressed, the lawyer has agreed to come to Molokai to meet with the party personally, answer questions, and discuss further action. Only one name is needed for the law suit to go through, but the more names the better, says Molokai resident and activist Walter Ritte. Legal costs would be funded with help from the community.

The group plans to sue on three main grounds: extortion, racketeering, and unlawful business practice. Extortion is defined as the gaining of property or money by force or threat of violence, property damage, harm to reputation, or unfavorable government action. Both the PUC and the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA), state departments set up to protect consumers, approved the high rate hikes for MPL in light of its threat to terminate water services.

Racketeering is the act of operating an illegal business or scheme in order to make a profit, perpetrated by a structured group. MPL shares such assets as employees, funds, office spaces and supervisors with its subsidiary water utility companies, Molokai Public Utilities, Inc. (MPU) and Wai`ola o Molokai, Inc. (Wai`ola), and the wastewater utility Mosco, Inc.. Attorney Margery Bronster, representing the County of Maui, believes MPL has been hiding behind these subsidiary companies to shirk its responsibilities and contracts with the county to maintain water systems.

An investigation of MPL also underway by the federal government’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for engaging in alleged unfair labor practices after a complaint filed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the union representing most of the former Ranch employees.

If you are a rate payer and would like a copy of the Prospective Client Questionnaire to have your name included in the lawsuit, contact Walter Ritte at 558-0111.

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