The future of Lāna‘i?
From Office of Hawaiian Affairs July 23, 2013
LĀNA‘I CITY (July 22, 2013) - As billionaire Larry Ellison makes gestures to tourism and population growth on Lāna‘i, Native Hawaiians are among residents worried about how the plans he is drawing up could alter the island’s laid-back character.
Their anxiety was apparent during a recent trip to Lāna‘i for the Board of Trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, whose overnight visit on July 17 included a tour of a seven-acre beachfront site, where a third resort on Lāna‘i is planned within easy sight of Maui’s western shore.
The project fits into Ellison’s broader ambitions to renovate the high-end accommodations of Four Seasons Resort Lāna‘i at Manele Bay, buy Island Air to help boost visits from affluent world travelers, and double to 6,000 the population of the island, which has no traffic lights, one gas station, and about 30 miles of paved roads.
Among those closely watching the groundwork being laid for the island’s future is Ciso Lagmay, 57, who four years ago opened his short-order restaurant in Lāna‘i with a $24,000 business loan from OHA.
"We want people to visit Lāna‘i," Lagmay said. “But we also want them to leave. Right now, everybody is one big family. My hope is that we don’t go from no traffic lights and no crime to all condominiums or become another Waikīkī."
Albert Halape Morita, chairman of the Lāna‘i Culture and Heritage Center, which has received more than $1 million in grants from OHA since 2009, acknowledged that it is hard for a lot of residents to comprehend Ellison’s plans to build a third resort on the island.
"While many of the plans are conceptual, the details are what we don’t know,” Morita said. “But building the infrastructure for doubling our population brings me a lot of anxiety. It could mean competition for picnic areas."
Diane Preza, 49, a kindergarten teacher on Lāna‘i, also expressed concerns about the inevitable changes that population growth and tourism will bring to an island, where Axis deer roam free in the hills and empty beaches are accessed only by Jeep Wranglers and other four-wheel drive vehicles able to navigate miles of dirt roads thick with red dust.
"Dirt roads are part of this island," said Preza, who treasures the island’s undeveloped isolation. “Inaccessibility is not a bad thing. The magic of this island is that you can go to the beach and not see a lot of people. I would hate for the island to lose too much of its identity."
Audio: Listen to the story above.
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Speaking to population growth on Lānaʻi
Responding to a question from OHA Trustee Peter Apo at a July 17 community meeting in cafeteria at Lānaʻi High and Elementary School, Kepa Maly, who described himself as part of billionaire Larry Ellison’s executive team, said:
"There are discussions about getting the population up to around 6,000. This is a lifetime investment for Mr. Ellison, who wants to prove that he can take a small island community and demonstrate cultural sustainability. The goal is to keep the community engaged. If we can do that, I don’t see our efforts going wrong."
VIDEO: Peter Apo talks about his Resort Design Consulting Business (12:00 mark)