Inside the battle to save the ‘last Hawaiian island’: Molokai residents fight to buy $260 million 55,575-acre farm from Hong Kong farm that rots and blocks beach access

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Inside the battle to save the 'last Hawaiian island': Molokai residents fight to buy $260 million 55,575-acre farm from Hong Kong farm that rots and blocks beach access



Local activists are fighting to regain access to a $260 million ranch on the island of Molokai after a Hong Kong investment firm locked off the beaches it owns and left the buildings to rot for more than a decade.

Activists and non-profits like the Molokai Heritage Trust have tried repeatedly to buy back the land, but all past attempts have failed.

Now activists are organizing protest marches to reclaim their traditional rights to access to cultural and historical sites as well as land for subsistence fishing and hunting.

Such rights are protected by Article 12, Section 7 of the Hawaii Constitution.

Molokai is known to locals as the ‘last Hawaiian island’ because it has resisted much of the commercial development, such as high-rise hotels and parking lots, that has plagued the rest of the archipelago.

Molokai is known to locals as the ‘Last Hawaiian Island’ because it has resisted much of the commercial development that has plagued others in the archipelago.

Local activists are fighting to restore access to a $260 million farm on the island of Molokai

Activists and nonprofit organizations, such as the Molokai Heritage Trust, have made repeated attempts to buy back the land.

Molokai Ranch was purchased in 2005 by Hong Kong investment firm Guoco Group, a Malaysian conglomerate, part of the Hong Leong Group founded by billionaire businessmen.

Covering more than 55,000 acres of stunning island land, the ranch was developed to include a luxury lodge, glamping resort, a restaurant, golf course and the island’s only movie theater.

However, the firm closed its operations on the island in 2008 after plans to build 200 luxury homes off the coast of Lau Point met with strong resistance from the local population.

More than 100 islanders were stranded in May when their access to the only road leading to Kawakyu Beach was blocked by a newly installed locked gate.

Protesters, waving national flags and signs, cut through the locks and marched to Adi Beach.

‘The march was there because they took away our hard-fought access for Hawaiians,’ Walter Ritte, a longtime Native Hawaiian activist and Molokai resident told SFGATE.

‘They are troubling the town of Maunaloa,’ Ritte said.

‘They closed the hotel and put sand in the swimming pool. They closed the golf course, cut coconut trees and used them to block access to the old golf course.

Protesters, waving national flags and signs, broke through a locked gate and descended onto Kawakyu Beach

The farm, which covers more than 55,000 acres of stunning island land, was developed to include various commercial buildings.

The land was originally owned by the Hawaiian monarchy before it was bought by a businessman in 1897 to produce sugar cane

‘The reaction was really negative and then they decided, “Okay, okay, we’ll just sell this place and get out of here,”‘ Ritta explained.

Guoko Group’s local subsidiary Molokai Properties Ltd told SFGATE in a statement that ‘the gate is designed to prevent authorized hunting vehicles from entering the land in a possible collision with a moving, registered hunt.

Allowing the uncontrolled use of firearms, especially when another victim may be in progress, would create a safety risk,’ the statement said.

‘There is an open system where cultural site visits and community hunts can be requested and arranged in advance.’

The last time Molokai Ranch erected a gate on the land and blocked access to its beach was in 1975, under a different owner.

Ritte led more than 200 residents on a hike across West Molokai on an old Hawaiian foot trail to protest their protected right of access.

‘We will exercise our birthright as Hawaiians to walk the Hawaiian way,’ he wrote in a 1975 article in the Honolulu Advertiser.

‘We, the people of Hawaii, own the beach and are going to go to that beach whenever we want. We’re not going to bow down to Molokai Ranch and say, ‘Please give us a pass so I can fish to feed my family.’

The land was originally owned by the Hawaiian monarchy before it was bought by a businessman in 1897 to produce sugar cane.

It has since changed hands several times and has been used for various commercial purposes, including a golf club and a wildlife park.



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