A nonprofit group trying to raise money to buy out Moloka’i’s largest private landowner and stop a controversial luxury home development has received a $50 million pledge from a company interested in building a wind power farm on the island.
UPC Wind, a Massachusetts-based firm that operates the Kaheawa Wind Power plant on Maui, said it would spend $50 million to help the Moloka’i Community Service Council acquire the 64,000 acres of the Friendly Isle owned by Molokai Ranch.
Karen M. Holt, Moloka’i Community Service executive director, said the commitment is a big jump-start to the fundraising campaign, which was launched a few months ago and had previously received about $10,000 in pledges.
“People are putting their money where their mouth is,” she said.
The nonprofit estimates that Molokai Ranch property, which covers 40 percent of the island, is worth around $200 million.
But it remains to be seen whether Molokai Ranch’s publicly traded parent company, Hong Kong-based Guoco Group, would consider a sale to the nonprofit, even if enough money were raised to make an offer.
Molokai Ranch spokesman John Sabas questioned whether there is community support for a wind farm. Sabas also said Molokai Ranch has put too much time and money into plans for developing 200 luxury home lots at La’au Point as a way to finance reopening the Kaluakoi Hotel and perpetually preserving the majority of other company lands through a community land trust.
“We told these people before that the ranch isn’t for sale,” he said.
The idea to buy out Molokai Ranch isn’t new. Holt said the nonprofit, established in 1974, made the repurchase its primary goal in a 1998 strategic plan as a way to end decades of battling development plans by various owners of Molokai Ranch.
“Everybody was getting tired of having to fight whenever the island’s future was (at stake),” she said.
But other projects such as affordable housing, drug prevention and charitable giving took precedence over the last decade. Holt said Molokai Ranch’s effort to develop La’au Point reignited the “Buy Moloka’i Ranch” campaign.
Molokai Ranch recently submitted a final environmental impact statement to the state Land Use Commission as part of its effort to reclassify the agriculture land at La’au Point for residential development.
“The only way to protect Moloka’i’s culture, environment and lifestyle is to give the people who live here the power to decide how to manage our limited resources,” Holt said.
“UPC Wind’s pledge is a significant step toward helping the Moloka’i community to achieve this goal.”
If the nonprofit can acquire the land, Paul Gaynor, president and CEO of UPC, said in a statement that the company would seek to lease a portion of the land to build a wind farm to generate electricity for Moloka’i and O’ahu via an undersea cable.
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
8 November 2007
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