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Hawaii’s Molokai Ranch to shut lodge, most facilities

By Audrey McAvoy Associated Press

Hawaii’s Molokai Ranch said Monday it will shut down most operations, including a lodge and other tourist facilities on Molokai, at the end of the month and lay off more than 120 employees over the next 60 days.

The company also said it would cut off public access to the 60,000 acres it owns on Molokai, which is roughly one-third of the island.

Among the properties it will close are Molokai Lodge, the Kaupoa Beach Village, the Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa gas station, the Maunaloa Tri-Plex theater and its cattle-rearing business.

The company, officially known as Molokai Properties Ltd., a subsidiary of Singapore-based GuocoLeisure Ltd., blamed its actions on community opposition to its plan to develop multimillion-dollar estates at the island’s Laau Point.

The plan would have transformed 500 acres of beachfront land at Laau into a 200-lot luxury subdivision. At the same time, the ranch would have set aside 50,000 acres for open space and conservation easement on the island, which is home to about 7,500 people.

Chief Executive Peter Nichols said in a statement that “unacceptable delays caused by continued opposition " to the Laau Point project “means we are unable to fund continued normal company operations.”

Molokai Ranch reported net losses totaling $37 million from 2001 to 2006, according to Gov. Linda Lingle.

The ranch is one of the biggest employers on the island, which has the state’s highest jobless rate, according to Charmaine Tavares, mayor of Maui County, which includes Molokai.

Danny A. Mateo, who represents Molokai in the county council, said he was worried the shutdown would hurt the tourism industry because the company would close the hotels it owns.

Molokai Ranch’s development plan was completed in late 2005 after two years and nearly 150 public meetings. But protesters dogged the project throughout, and sentiment toward the plan was deeply divided.

Molokai Ranch submitted an environmental impact statement to the state Land Use Commission for approval in October. But commissioners said the study inadequately addressed water treatment, potential environmental hazards to Hawaiian monk seals and other issues. The ranch withdrew the study but had said it planned to prepare another one.

Colette Machado, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee for Molokai, said “this is a sad day.”

Machado, a longtime backer of the development plan, said Molokai Ranch’s proposal would have protected Native Hawaiian cultural sites and preserved access to fishing grounds.

Walter Ritte, an activist who has protested the project, urged Molokai Ranch to talk to residents about alternatives that wouldn’t involve developing Laau Point.

“There’s not only one way for making money. They’re insisting that the Laau project is the only way,” Ritte said. “The community has said loud and clear that’s unacceptable. So let’s get back to the table.”


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