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With equipment auction over, next on the block is Puunene Mill itself

Auctioneer Joe Teipel signals a bid for a piece of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. equipment during Thursday’s auction at the Maui Beach Hotel in Kahului. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The two-day auction of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.’s equipment and vehicles ended Thursday. Next up for the plantation is selling the mill itself.

Both HC&S General Manager Rick Volner and Gregg Epstein of Perry Videx LLC, a company with expertise in sugar equipment, said that the search is ongoing for a buyer for the entire mill.

HC&S sugar operations shut down in December, and the company is no longer using the mill or the majority of its equipment in Puunene. The company will turn to diversified agriculture for its 36,000 acres.

Epstein, who attended the auction at the Maui Beach Hotel this week, said that there is interest from Asia and South America in buying the whole mill. Perry Videx buys and sells used equipment and machinery and has experience with selling sugar plantations, including on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii island. He did not have sales details about those transactions, which occurred years ago.

Epstein said that interest in the HC&S mill is about as far as it has gotten. There have been no offers.

A sea of red pickup trucks was part of the Puunene Mill inventory on the auction block this week. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“It’s a long shot,” Epstein said.

But, he added, “people are still eating sugar,” so there is someone producing it.

If the mill cannot be sold whole, Epstein said, HC&S will sell parts in large sections, including the power generation plant. This type of negotiation could last into April or May, he said.

He said that interest in the mill and its equipment would most likely come from South America, the Philippines or Australia. Another auction, which could include various leftover items, is also an option.

He added that the Puunene Mill smokestacks more than likely will not be sold.

Gregg Epstein, president of Perry Videx LLC, observes Thursday’s auction. Epstein is working with Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. in its liquidation of the Puunene Mill and equipment. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In a statement, HC&S’ parent company, Alexander & Baldwin, said that it is working with California-based auction house Global Partners “to determine how we will proceed with the mill and associated equipment.”

Officials from Global Partners, which assisted HC&S in this week’s auction, said it would not be able to provide any monetary details of the two-day auction.

Auction officials said they also could not identify bidders, but said they did include international clients. Auction officials estimated there were at least 1,000 bidders registered for the auction online and in person.

HC&S officials also did not reveal the proceeds of the two-day sale. However, according winning bids posted on Global Partners’ website, at least $1.3 million in equipment was sold Wednesday, which included around 320 lots of pickup trucks, John Deere Gators, machine shop items and other small equipment including scales and a microscope.

On Thursday, the winning bid totals were higher as bulldozers, loaders, forklifts, excavators and other heavy vehicles were sold. A 2010 John Deere 350D articulated mudtruck sold for $87,500.

A rough total of all the winning bids Thursday hovered around $3.25 million, bringing the total for the two days to at least $4.5 million. The totals are approximate and do not include premiums or state tax.

The estimated $4.5 million total does not compare to the $30 million in losses in 2015 that A&B identified as a reason for the closure.

Maui Beach Hotel’s Elleair Rainbow Ballroom was quieter Thursday and there were enough seats for all bidders, unlike the standing-room-only crowd on hand Wednesday. There were at least 100 audience members for the beginning of Thursday’s auction, which ran from 10 a.m. to around 5:15 p.m. Local trucking companies, farmers and small businesses made up most of the audience Thursday.

Among those attending was recently laid-off millwright Beato Verceluz, who owns a hauling company, Verceluz Trucking LLC.

Verceluz, who spent 37 years with HC&S, said that he wanted to buy a crane truck that he drove during his time with the company for the “memory.” He was willing to pay $2,000 for the 1987 truck.

He said he cried and got chicken skin when he visited the mill to inspect the auction equipment.

Verceluz, 60, said that he had hoped to retire from HC&S. He has had his hauling company since 2005, but, he added, “No more job.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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