By Valerie Monson

WAILUKU, Maui (The Maui News, Sept. 28) - After a wave of controversy that tore the Molokai community apart, leaders of two cruise ship companies said they have scuttled all plans to anchor off Kaunakakai.

"I feel very badly that the way we were introduced to this island created so much conflict and consternation," said Tom Dow of Princess Cruises and Princess Tours as he addressed a crowd of about 75 concerned citizens Thursday night. "The success of our business is directly tied to how well we are received in the local community."

When Dow and John Shively of Holland America Line announced that their company fleets had dropped Molokai from their itineraries, a happy roar went up from the throng.

"To everybody on Molokai, I think we give ourselves a hand," said Walter Ritte, one of the leaders of Hui Ho'opakele 'Aina ("Rescue the Land"), the grass-roots organization that protested the arrival of the big ships. "Tonight is a night of victory."

Ritte, however, was quick to add that the hui will continue to push the state to adopt regulations for the industry to make sure that the increasing number of ships follows environmental standards and is held accountable.

Members still haven't decided if they'll drop a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice against the state and county.

Dow and Shively, whose companies are both owned by Carnival Cruise Lines, said they'll work with residents to develop a way for passengers on ships anchoring off Lahaina to take the ferry to Molokai for day trips. That idea had been floated more than nine months ago by Tuddie Purdy, a member of the hui who leads tours - preferably small ones - on his macadamia nut farm. It was not taken seriously until after the conflict within the community that led to a lot of pain and hard feelings.

It was last November when many in the community were angered to learn that a Holland America ocean liner already had permission from the state to visit Molokai and tender as many as 1,300 passengers to shore. Because only a small group of business and tourism leaders had been consulted, a majority of island residents were angry at being left out of a decision that they feared could harm their ocean resources and rural lifestyle.

When the Holland America ship arrived at dawn Dec. 28, it was greeted by a storm of demonstrators on land and sea - as well as strong winds that prevented the vessel from dropping anchor. The protest made national news, from CNN to The Washington Post, something Holland America didn't need in the wake of other bad publicity regarding cruise ships in general.

Dow and Shively told the crowd that it was not only the controversy of the visits that forced them to re-evaluate their Molokai plans, but the unpredictable weather that could make sending passengers to shore too dangerous.

"We're willing now to sit and listen," said Shively.

So the night became "the first step in trying to heal," said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Colette Machado.

The meeting was sponsored by OHA and Ke Aupuni Lokahi, the governance board of the Molokai Enterprise Community (EC), a federally recognized group of Molokai citizens working to build the community while adhering to its values. The EC remained neutral during the cruise ship controversy.

Stacy Helm-Crivello, president of the board, allowed all sides a chance to have their say while moving the meeting along. Although hui members were clearly jubilant, there was no gloating. The hui members expressed a hope that lessons learned from the conflict would lead to improved communication and mutual respect in upcoming discussions.

Dow and Shively agreed that when they have future plans that involve Molokai, they would contact the EC and the Molokai Chamber of Commerce, which was also left out of the original talks.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the night was the absence of Molokai Visitors Association leaders, who had supported the cruise ship visits. The association was included on the Thursday night agenda, along with Dow, Shively, Charles Toguchi of the Northwest Cruise Association and others, but no representatives attended.

When reached Friday morning, Executive Director Sandy Beddow said she didn't know about the event until less than three hours before it began and that the group had already scheduled a board meeting for that night.

Cruise ship executives and Molokai residents who supported the visits said the economic benefits from occasional floods of passengers were just what the community needed. But opponents said a steady flow of tourists would be better for an island with no stoplights and only one public restroom at the wharf.

Rep. Sol Kaho'ohalahala, whose House district includes Molokai, told the crowd that by saying no to the big ships, Molokai was actually increasing its appeal to cruising visitors who want to venture off the beaten path.

"People will want to come here because no one (the ships) comes here," said Kaho'ohalahala. "Molokai is creating a market for itself."

As it turns out, that's already happening, not only to Molokai, but also to Lanai. According to statistics released earlier this month by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, more than 2,000 visitors taking cruises around the islands either came to Hawaii before their cruise or stayed after so they could spend time on Molokai (most traveling by air). More than 2,600 cruisers in the state went to Lanai.

Kaho'ohalahala and Molokai businesswoman Kammy Purdy also cautioned Dow and Shively about future day trips to Molokai. Both said that tour operators who want to bring passengers from Lahaina should be from Molokai to ensure that the economic benefits remain on the island. Purdy said existing businesses - not new ones started by non-Molokai residents seeking to capitalize on the cruisers - should be given priority.

Maui County Council Member Danny Mateo said it's not just big ships that Molokai fears, but smaller ones, too. Mateo was referring to an "ecotourism" vessel that recently was given permission from the state to send passengers in Zodiacs into pristine Wailau Valley on the north shore of the island. (The ship had no connection to Princess or Holland America.)

Even though no Zodiacs were launched, the issue remains volatile because the public was, once again, left out. Earlier in the week, the Molokai Planning Commission asked the county Planning Department to gather information to determine if a special management area permit would be required for such landings.

While hui members were well aware that many complicated issues still lay ahead of them, it was, as Ritte said, a night to celebrate. It was also a message to any outsider who might have plans for Molokai.

"We hope it wakes up these businesspeople - we don't want the same mass tourism you've been giving everyone else in Hawaii," said Ritte. "To those who want to do business on Molokai, please come through a process where the community has input. Our government has not provided that process, so we're depending on the EC."

October 1, 2003

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