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HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (February 10, 2000 - KITV 4 News)---Negotiations between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a Honolulu family to purchase remote Palmyra atoll have reached an impasse, prompting others to consider buying or leasing the property.

The purchase of tiny Palmyra, about 1,000 miles south of Hawai‘i (see http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/lq.html), has been a top priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for several months.

But a spokesman for the Fullard-Leo family said the two parties were unable to agree on a price or terms for the atoll, considered one of the most exotic and mysterious spots in the Pacific.

The federal government had set aside $8 million in hopes of buying it as a nature preserve. But that deal is in jeopardy and other possible arrangements may be threatened as well by a dispute over who owns the territory.

The family said it is still willing to discuss a sale, and the money is still available in the federal budget. So, it may just be a matter of how much both sides are willing to give.

Meanwhile, in federal court descendants of a man named Henry Maui are claiming their ancestor was cheated out of his interest in Palmyra.

They claim Henry Cooper, a predecessor to the Fullard-Leos, obtained his interest in the atoll’s islands through the land court of the territorial system by fraud and manipulation.

Cooper led the businessmen who overthrew the kingdom of Hawai‘i. He served as acting president of the new republic and a territorial judge.

Maui's descendants said Cooper used his power and influence to nullify Henry Maui's one-third ownership of Palmyra.

With as much as $50 million being offered for Palmyra, Maui's descendants hope to receive some of the proceeds of any sale.

The Fullard-Leo family, who want its total ownership of Palmyra validated, are suing Henry Maui's descendants, calling their claim frivolous.

The Fullard-Leos said Maui's descendants' claim has made them unable to proceed with marketing or selling the atoll.

Despite that claim in court, a Fullard-Leo family spokesman said the potential federal purchase has not been affected by the ownership dispute.

In the meantime, the family has licensed a California businessman to develop a satellite-fishing base there to extend the range of the Hawai‘i fleet.

The Palmyra case is important to Hawaiian scholars because even though it was part of the Hawaiian kingdom, it was specifically excluded when the rest of Hawai‘i’s islands became a state.

That makes Palmyra a unique opportunity to seek decisions in federal court, which could affect Hawaiian sovereignty, access and property rights.

This report was contributed by KITV 4 News reporter Daryl Huff.

Note: Calls by Pacific Islands Report to a Fullard-Leo spokesman, real estate broker Peter Savio (who is handling the sale), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service went unanswered.

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