A plan to preserve agricultural lands on the North Shore is backfiring on some Kahuku farmers.
Several farmers said Turtle Bay Resort wants to charge them between $40,000 and $100,000 for a new road and other improvements. And they said these new fees will drive them out of business.
"If they insist on us paying $40,000, I might as well quit," said Virgilio Tomas, who has grown garlic, shallots and jicama on 18.5 acres on Turtle Bay's mauka lands since 1990. "They are doing all of these things to get us out of our farms."
Added fellow farmer Chue Outtaphone: "It's going to hurt. How are you going to even pay your rent and then come up with $45,000. The farmers said the road and other improvements will cost about $1 million, or roughly $2,700 for each acre they farm.
Ironically, those improvements are part of Turtle Bay's plan to help preserve ag and conservation lands under a deal stuck this year with the state. The developer said the improvements are needed to bring the farmlands up to city and state codes.
"We are funding the bulk of expenses needed to make these planned improvements including more than $350,000 in upgrades to the irrigation system," said Turtle Bay Vice President Scott McCormack. "Turtle Bay Resort has been subsidizing most of these farmers for years."
According to Turtle Bay, future plans include the development of crops such as coffee, orchids and other high-end vegetables. About a dozen farmers, mostly of Laotian and Filipino descent, currently farm on 469-acres owned by Turtle Bay. Most are on month to month leases and many fear they don't fit into the developer's future plans.
"If they want to develop those farm lands, how come we have to shoulder it," asked Tomas. "It's really hard because in farming we cannot make that much money. We're just farming to survive."
Ricky Rabago, a farming tenant since 1986, says that the special fee is just one of several new draconian measures implemented by the developer. He said the owner is now requiring farmers to develop a business plan showing that their farms can generate net profits of $5,000 per acre.
"I told them I no can make this business plan. I don't know what I going to do," said Rabago. Rabago, who pays $400 an acre per month to grow papaya, corn and squash, said he used to farm on about 100 acres but Turtle Bay has reduced that recently to about 38 acres. He said his share of the improvement costs comes out to about $120,000. "I'm just sick," he said.
Chhorvy Oung, who is giving up farming, said the owners also regulate what they sell at the nearby fruit stand. "If they saw you cut fruit, they could suspend you (from selling at the fruit stand) for a week and fine you $2,000," she said.