Molokai Ranch sale has community talking public, private options

Always Investigating

What could be one of the largest land-buys, since Larry Ellison purchased most of Lanai, would put the future of Molokai ranch into new hands. The ranch has been closed since 2008, and up for sale from its Singapore owners for more than a year. Always Investigating looked into the options being floated.

A possible state bid has stalled but Molokai community leaders have a backup plan for some form of public acquisition. Meanwhile the assets remain for sale to any private investor at a $260 million asking price.

Molokai Properties Limited, which owns about a third of the island’s land area, shut down operations over a decade ago, closing a lodge, golf course, business centers and cattle operations. all that land and assets – 55,000– have sat ever since.

They’ve never come to the community, no relationship whatsoever,” said Molokai community activist Walter Ritte. “It’s been a problem all of these years and we’re really glad that they are now selling.”

The ranch has been listed for $260 million dollars with Sotheby’s since the fall of 2017.

“We have been organizing for the past year, almost 2 years now, to try and find a buyer that would be more amenable to where we want to go,” Ritte said.

“There are so many oligarchs in the world they don’t know who might buy it,” said state lawmaker Rep. Richard Creagan. “$260 million is like chump change to some of these guys. It might be wonderful, but the point is it might not be wonderful for the people of Molokai.”

Creagan, who had Peace Corps training there in the 1960s, launched a bill HB1501 to have the state buy Molokai Ranch, similar to how the state, Honolulu County and Trust for Public Lands teamed up with $45 million to buy nearly 700 acres near Turtle Bay a few years back. A Molokai deal would far surpass that in scope.

“I think it definitely is the biggest buy,” Creagan said.

That bill got shelved Friday at the Capitol. Ritte says there’s a backup plan to start a feasibility study by resolution. Creagan’s office says a purchase effort could resurface in a Senate bill if the idea gains momentum. People on Molokai are also trying to get support for trust money to come into the buyer mix.

“We’re actively going out, we’ve been trying to get our alii trusts, the Hawaiian agencies, to come together,” Ritte said. “They’re interested but they want to make sure, we need to get them all together, so if this bill can bring all of these entities together that would be really great.”

Always Investigating asked, why not just let the free market take its course?

“Main thing is the land needs to be taken from a foreign entity for the state,” Creagan said, “and then the people on Molokai can make the decision on the most appropriate thing to do with that land. It would be the heart, the physical heart of the Hawaiian nation.”

“Molokai was famous for the food they produced. Right now the state has a huge food security problem,” Ritte said. “The traditional saying for Molokai is Molokai aina momona (the abundant land). We could be producing all the starches and protein that the state needs. On our 14,000 acres of reef there’s like 1,200 acres of fishponds – 63 fishponds — that we could be producing lots of protein. We have these valleys on Molokai, 4 major valleys with 4 million gallons of water coming through there, pristine water coming through these valleys. From one wall to the other wall in the valley are all intact taro terraces.”

“It would be available for ranching,” Creagan added. “Some people might look at reforestation. I would hope that if the state bought it that they could find someone to reopen that hotel and provide a place for people to stay and see Molokai and also provide the employment that was there before.”

Always Investigating asked, to the extent that businesses might worry about the business climate there in terms of operability, is Molokai open for business for operators who might need to come in?

“My generation, we’ve been fighting for 40 years, we call it defense,” Ritte said. “Now that the lands are for sale, it’s time for some offense. So we’re bringing all together the younger generation and telling them that they’re the ones that are going to play offense. Now they’ve really got to come up with the economic development plan that’s going to be suited for their future.”

Always Investigating followed up, asking will Molokai be able to create more productive economic opportunities?

“Oh yeah definitely,” Ritte said. “We’re ready to deal with people who think the same as they people on this island, so when you buy the ranch you’re not just buying land, you’re buying into a community that knows where it wants to go. We just finished a 5-year process on the Molokai Community Plan. There’s no reason why anybody coming here would now know where this island wants to go.”

A community meeting is being held on Monday, Feb. 4, at the Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai, covering options with the Molokai Ranch purchase, also other topics about new military activities there, the Kalaupapa National Park environmental assessment, and a move to make Molokai its own county. That goes from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday.

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