Framework reached on Molokai cruise discussions

By Howard Dicus - bio | email

HONOLULU and KAUNAKAKAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Molokai residents who staged an in-the-water blockade to prevent a cruise ship visit now say they will not stand in the way of such visits after a series of community discussions on the issue that begins next week.

The first of four community meetings on the matter will be held next Wednesday. When the fourth has been held Jan. 17, the demonstrators will allow resumption of port calls by American Safari Cruises while the community dialogue continues.

Walter Ritte, a leader of the protestors who revealed the agreement on HawaiiNewsNow Sunrise Friday, said the demonstrators were less concerned about a few visits by a cruise ship that carries 35 passengers than by what it could lead to.

"We have nothing against this company," said Walter Ritte, a leader of the demonstrators. "All we want to do is make sure there's some kind of a process where our issues and concerns are heard. These people just showed up on our doorstep so we were forced to protest."

State officials brokered a series of community meetings after one last month drew hundreds of attendees and lasted for hours. American Safari CEO Dan Blanchard, who voluntarily stopped port calls after last month's nautical protest, said he agreed there should be community buy-in.

Rob Stephenson, president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce, said the problem for him is that now an unofficial group of protestors seems to be driving the process without involvement by people who are economically impacted by the delay of cruise visits.

"The local businesses that are affected - the agriculture companies, the tour companies, and all of the people that rely on this - they were never at the negotiating table and they weren't represented," said Rob Stephenson, president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce. "So we have some concerns about that."

Molokai residents on both sides of the cruise ship issue are concerned with protecting the quieter way of life that their island offers. The island's entire population is less than that of the largest cruise ships. A few intersections on the island have flashing lights but there is no stoplight.

Subsistence fishing and hunting is an important part of the Molokai economy and some residents who don't fish and hunt get food from those who do, offering bartering services in return.

The way of life comes at a cost, including a cost to others. Molokai has twice the unemployment of other islands. Maui County spends far more on Molokai services than it collects in taxes. The island draws more than half a million dollars a year in welfare payments.

Molokai Ranch, owned by a Malaysian business magnate, shut down operations including a hotel several years ago after encountering community opposition to building million-dollar homes in the mostly uninhabited southwestern corner of the island.

More recently, there was opposition to a wind turbine project on the northwestern side of the island, to generate power for consumption by Oahu. A similar proposal on Lanai also ran into opposition.

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