Hundreds bid aloha to Hawaii's last sugar mill

Hundreds bid aloha to Hawaii's last sugar mill
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

PUUNENE, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Workers delivered the final truckload of cane to the state's last remaining sugar mill on Monday. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company held a commemoration event at its Puunene factory with an estimated 700 employees, retirees and community leaders.

Fermin Domingo has driven a Tournahauler down the red dirt road to the mill countless times during his four decades with HC&S. His last trip with the final truckload of sugar cane harvested on Maui is one that he'll never forget.

"It has been fun working here for the last 40 years, but it's sad that it comes to an end," he said.

With the sugar mill shutting down, many attendees reflected on Hawaii's plantation past.

"My grandparents immigrated from Japan to work in the plantations more than 100 years ago like so many others from the Philippines, China," said Governor David Ige.

Workers have put down cover crops to control some of the soil erosion as the 36,000 acre plantation transitions to diversified agriculture, including bioenergy and orchard crops. The company has also started to convert about 4,000 acres to pastures for grass-finished livestock.

"Even though sugar is phasing out, doors of opportunity are opening really wide," said Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa.

About half of the 675 employees have already been laid off. 14 will stay on for the diversified agriculture projects. The rest will remain on the payroll until the end of the month.

"To be able to be a part of this company, and in the future be part of history, is just an honor and a privilege," said HC&S worker Bettina Virgino.

Wet weather slowed down sugar operations this year, with roughly 158,000 tons being produced, according to the company.

The cane will be processed during the next few days and the mill will fall silent on December 23 once the final cleanup activities are finished.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.