Jobs saved by Maui sugar decision - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Jobs saved by Maui sugar decision

Chris Benjamin Chris Benjamin
Isaac Moriwake Isaac Moriwake

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

WAILUKU, Maui (HawaiiNewsNow) - Roughly 750 jobs on Maui have been saved ... at least for now. Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company announced it will continue to grow sugar cane on the Valley Isle through at least the end of 2010.

The sugar business in Hawaii has been sour for decades. Foreign competition has kept prices low and the recent drought on Maui made matters worse.

HS&S lost more than $40-million the past two years. But the rain has returned and sugar prices have spiked thanks to a global shortage.

Those two developments were enough to convince Alexander and Baldwin, HC&S's parent company, to keep growing ... at least until the end of the year.

"Well, I think everybody is very pleased and really relieved," said Chris Benjamin, HC&S General Manager.

Benjamin said now that a decision has been made on the companies short term future, it is time to focus on long term goals.

"We've got to perform this year. We've got to get our sugar production up. We have to do a lot of things, and we've also got to hope that some outside things go our way." Benjamin told Hawaii News Now the single most important thing that can save sugar is securing continued access to Maui's water.

Taro farmers and environmentalists are asking the state Commission on Water Resource Management to reduce the amount of water diverted from streams to irrigate sugar cane fields.

"Can we afford to be using all this water for an operation that was out of date decades ago?" asked Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake. "It's just wasting water at this point for something that's not profitable. We want to see our streams flowing. We want to see the rebound of the biology."

Moriwake said he thinks the announcement by Alexander and Baldwin to keep growing through the end of the year is a ploy to convince the water commission to rule in A&B's favor.

Benjamin called the company's announcement a business decision, not a ploy.

"A&B is committing significant resources to keep these jobs on Maui ... to keep this plantation going. And we're asking for one thing and one thing only, assurances that we'll still have the water to grow the cane that we need to grow. That is not a stunt. That's just solid business," Benjamin said.

The water commission is expected to rule on the water dispute sometime in the next few months.

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