Last November 30, Moloka`i Properties Ltd., owner of almost all of the assets of the now defunct Moloka`i Ranch, petitioned the Land Use Commission to designate 4,919 (later amended to 5,203) acres of ranch land in West Moloka`i as important agricultural lands. Unlike the three IAL petitions preceding it, this one entered a contested case hearing, reflecting disagreement – if not outright controversy – over whether the lands should be qualified as such.
Nearly all the land – 4,661 acres – is currently occupied by two cattle ranches, Pohakuloa and Diamond B, both managed by James “Uncle Jimmy” Duvachelle. According to the petition for IAL designation, MPL’s agricultural plan for the property calls for the two ranches to be merged, granting the remaining ranch a 20-year lease, and encumbering the entire petition area with a 99-year agricultural easement in favor of the Moloka`i Land Trust.
The Department of Agriculture has nothing against ranch land being designated as important, said Russell Kokubun at a recent LUC meeting. However, in this case, the carrying capacity of the land for cattle is compromised by the presence of a large population of axis deer in western Moloka`i, estimated at around 10,000 head. In its petition, MPL stated it had no interest in culling the axis deer population, despite the fact that this was estimated to reduce the carrying capacity for cattle by roughly 40 percent. Without the deer, MPL estimates the land could support a cow-calf unit on six acres. With the deer, the area required increases to nearly 10 acres. In other words, the presence of the deer reduces the carrying capacity of 5,000 acres from 833 units to 500. “The petition does not explain how IAL designation will improve the viability of the ranching operation for beef production,” Kokubun said in comments on the MPL proposal.
In any case, the concerns expressed by the DOA and the Office of Planning were mooted on March 31, when MPL withdrew the petition. In giving notice to the LUC, attorney Curtis T. Tabata of Matsubara-Kotake, recapped the basics of the petition, saying it would have contributed “towards a sustainable cattle industry on Moloka`i.”
“Fate has, however, dictated that the issue of sustainable energy and wind turbines on the island of Moloka`i be addressed at the same time our petition is being processed,” Tabata added.
The discussion with the state and community members on possible sites for wind turbines on the island “is ongoing,” he wrote, “and it is not expected that the issues relating to the location of the wind turbines will be resolved in a timeframe that would be acceptable to the commission in relation to this application.”
Coincidentally, on the same day that the IAL petition was withdrawn, Pacific Business News reported that First Wind, based in Boston, had given up in its efforts to negotiate development of a wind farm on Moloka`i Properties land. Under a 2009 agreement with Hawaiian Electric, First Wind had until mid-March to work out an arrangement for land on Moloka`i where a 200-megawatt wind farm could be erected, providing half of the 400-MW “Big Wind” project the state is pushing to bring electricity to O`ahu from Moloka`i and Lana`i. According to the PBN report, under the agreement with Hawaiian Electric, it alone has the right to develop wind energy on Moloka`i to feed into the O`ahu project.
Even before the March 18 deadline for First Wind passed, Moloka`i Properties was engaged in discussions with another wind and cable transmission company called Pattern Energy, which participated in three community meetings in the first week of March. According to The Moloka`i Dispatch, MPL was considering leasing 11,000 acres for a wind farm, consisting of roughly 90 400-foot-high turbines in western Moloka`i. Maps reproduced by The Moloka`i Dispatch showed the proposed IAL land was central to the planned wind farm.
— Patricia Tummons
Volume 21, Number 11 May 2011