Mass Layoffs at Molokai Ranch

Todd Yamashita
Todd Yamashita

By Mari-Ela David

MOLOKAI (KHNL) -- A severe economic blow on the Friendly Isle.  Molokai Ranch announced Monday it's shutting down operations.

With that announcement, more than 100 ranch employees learned they'll no longer have a job.

Just to give a perspective on how much that will impact the community, only about 7400 residents live on Molokai. Factor in the island's high unemployment rate, and you have a situation state leaders call devastating.

The fierce fight at Molokai Ranch has split the community the last five years.

"You have employees of the ranch who need their jobs. They do have a mortgage to pay. And then you have the rest of the community that has come out over and over again and voiced their opposition. It's really unfortunate because you have families arguing with each other," said Todd Yamashita, owner and editor-in-chief of The Molokai Dispatch newspaper.

That argument took an unexpected turn as Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) announced plans to shut down the ranch and lay off more than 120 employees over the next 60 days. MPL says resistance from residents over its master plan caused delays so costly, the ranch can no longer afford to operate.

"There haven't been any further delays unless they're given up on their draft environmental impact statement and aren't going to answer the comment but the balls in their court now and they just threw up their hands and gave up and put their employees in an awkward position," said DeGray Vanderbilt, a 30-year Molokai resident.

"This is going to be a huge economic impact on that island. Money-wise they're already tight. It's going to be very difficult for them," said Senator Kalani English.

The heart of the controversy lies at Laau where Molokai Ranch wanted to build 200 luxury homes on 500 acres along this shoreline.

"I think it was a project contrary to our community's values and the community was really concerned about the social impacts that would result from this project happening," said Vanderbilt.

The ranch shuts down the end of March.

The Molokai Community Services Council (MCSC) has launched a campaign to buy the ranch. MCSC Executive Director Karen Holt says they finally have the opportunity to bring the ownership of Molokai back home to the people who live there. The group says the value of the ranch is at about $200 million.