HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Billionaire Larry Ellison is turning to the ocean to help grow Lanai's economy.
Hawaii News Now has learned that Ellison is working with an Israeli company, IDE Technologies, to build a multi-million dollar desalination plant.
The plant will produce about 2.5 million gallons a day of fresh water from ocean water, or more than a third of the island's current usage.
"Water is the number one priority. It is the number one issue. Without it ... (expansion) will not proceed," said John Ornellas, chairman of the Lanai Planning Commission.
The plant will be located next to Manele Bay Hotel and the Lanai's sewage plant. Workers from Ellison's Lanai Resorts have begun drilling pilot wells to test the feasibility of the plan.
"They eventually may want to increase the capacity to 5 million gallons a day, which would help with irrigation of a new type of agriculture," said Butch Gima, president of Lanaians for Sensible Growth.
Having an adequate water supply is crucial to any plans to grow the island's economy.
Ellison's vision includes a third luxury hotel, commercial farms and hundreds of new homes workers -- all of which require a lot of water.
"It's a top priority. Without this, and housing, they cannot do what they want to do with all of their projects," said Gima.
Gima's organization has been locked in a 20-year legal battle with Lanai's former owner David Murdock over water issues. They opposed Murdock's plans to use some of the island's water to irrigate his golf courses.
"If this desal plant goes to fruition, it may make the litigation all but moot," Gima said.
Representatives from IDE and Ellison's companies will brief isle residents about the plan next month.