Molokai Ranch told to keep water going
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Andrew Gomes
The state Department of Health yesterday issued emergency orders for Molokai Ranch subsidiaries to continue drinking-water and wastewater services on Moloka'i for at least the next 90 days, and instructed Maui County to prepare to assume the services.
"The Department of Health is exercising its authority to order immediate action to protect the public health from an imminent and substantial danger if the services are stopped," Laurence Lau, department deputy director for environmental health, said in a statement announcing the orders.
The orders are intended to afford Maui County time to assess needs and prepare to provide the essential services.
Molokai Ranch in March threatened to halt the water service Aug. 31 because it is losing money, and maintains that the government has a duty to provide citizens with essential services such as water when the private sector is unable to do so.
Under the Health Department orders, Molokai Ranch utilities Wai'ola O Molokai, Molokai Public Utilities, and Mosco must continue operating at least until Oct. 18, but the department said it will monitor work by Maui County and the utilities to determine whether it's necessary to extend the orders beyond the 90-day period.
"Our priority is to ensure uninterrupted water and wastewater service for the health and safety of the people of Moloka'i," Gov. Linda Lingle said in a statement. "While the county has the primary responsibility to operate and maintain public utilities, the state is prepared to assist the county."
A hearing on the Health Department orders is scheduled for today at 9 a.m. at 919 Ala Moana in the fifth-floor offices of the department's Environmental Management Division.
Under the orders, the utilities must submit a written report to the Health Department every seven days on the status of operations. The county also must submit written assessments every seven days on the status of preparations.
The orders follow a hearing last week held by the state Public Utilities Commission to consider raising Molokai Ranch customer utility rates for six months as a way to eliminate financial losses that the company cites as the chief reason it needs to cease services.
A decision on the rate-increase issue is expected Aug. 14.
Reach Andrew Gomes at firstname.lastname@example.org.