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Molokai mule ride company evicted from trail land

Landowner says that tour operators continued to refuse to negotiate a lease

Kalaupapa Rare Adventures has been evicted from land it has used to operate a mule ride on the 3.5-mile Kalaupapa Trail, according to an announcement Saturday from landowner R.W. Meyer Ltd.

There was no immediate response to phone or email messages left Saturday with the mule ride tour company.

Since the early 1970s, guided mule rides have taken visitors down the 26 jagged switchbacks on the cliffside to the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula. R.W. Meyer President Paul Meyer said his family-owned company has received several inquiries from other tour companies about entering into a lease agreement to continue the mule rides after Kalaupapa Rare Adventures has vacated the property.

“This is not about greed or stopping a business from operating mule rides or tours to Kalaupapa to share the history of Molokai,” Meyer said in a written statement. “This is about good business practices and fulfilling our responsibility to our shareholders and the 900 living descendants of R.W. Meyer. Every day that Kalaupapa Rare Adventures operates without a lease agreement, we are put at risk, and they have refused to make any attempts to pay rent or even respond to our requests to negotiate a new lease. They left us no choice but to evict them from our property.”

According to a timeline provided by the Meyer company, Kalaupapa Rare Adventures was formed as a company in 2010.

In January 2015, the Meyer company granted a one-year lease to the mule ride tour company for $1,374 per month. The Meyer company says rent concessions were granted to help with the expense of repairing a mule barn. In December of the same year, a lease extension was granted to Jan. 31, 2017, with the proposed rent of $2,500 per month lowered to $1,800 per month, the timeline says.

In March or April 2016, Kalaupapa Adventures’ management was taken over by Marlene, Beatrice and Eldon “Sale” Sproat, the timeline says. It reports that attempts by the Meyer company to settle or renegotiate the lease failed, with a number of attempts to contact the mule ride company going unanswered.

The timeline says that on Jan. 11, 2017, the Meyer company received an 11-page document from Kalaupapa Adventures, seeking $5 million in gold or silver and calling U.S. currency “Monopoly money.” The company disputed R.W. Meyer’s land ownership and made sovereignty claims, although Meyer is Native Hawaiian and has land deeds, the timeline says.

In March 2017, Kalaupapa Adventures files a second claim in land court, raising its demand from $5 million to $50 million; and, in July, a federal magistrate issued a finding that the tour company had failed to show it has rights to the Meyer land, the timeline says. And, after Kalaupapa Adventures filed a lawsuit against the Meyer company in December, a judge ruled against the plaintiff and issued a writ of possession in favor of the Meyer company, it says.

The eviction notice was served March 20.

Even after the eviction notice was served, the tour company continues to advertise, book reservations and conduct daily business, according to the Meyer company. On its website, the company lists charges of up to $209 per person for a mule ride and up to $79 per hiker.

On Feb. 9, 2017, The Maui News published a story reporting that R.W. Meyer installed a gate to block access to the trail to Kalaupapa. The article reported that the tour company operators feared that with a higher rent and handing over 20 percent of gross profits would force them out of business.

On Saturday, Meyer said his company asked Kalaupapa Adventures to provide documentation that the proposed rent increase would create a hardship, “and they ignored our request for this.”

“We provided them with two rent concessions in the past when they provided us with documentation,” he said. “In both of these instances, they needed to make repairs to their mule barn, and we lowered our rent to provide financial assistance to them. During this whole process of renegotiations, we simply asked them to negotiate with us in good faith as any responsible business would do, and they refused to do so.”

Meyer said his company has an “excellent” relationship with the National Park Service and the state Department of Health, which have employees who work at the Kalaupapa National Historical Park and settlement. Employees have a combination to the gate lock and will continue to have trail access, he said.

The gate was installed to prevent unauthorized access, he said.

“The 3.5-mile Kalaupapa Trail is very steep with rough terrain and 26 switchbacks that descend 2,000-foot sea cliffs,” he said. “It’s not safe for people to do unescorted. . . . We also have a problem with poachers. Kalaupapa settlement is also off-limits to those not invited or authorized, and as landowners, we have a responsibility to (the National Park Service) and the patients living in the settlement to enforce this any way we can.”

According to Meyer, there have been injuries to mule riders on numerous occasions.

The most recent was in December when two people were injured on the mule ride after they fell from their mules and needed to be airlifted from the Kalaupapa Trail. A 54-year-old man from Novato, Calif., fell onto the trail, suffering a head injury and losing consciousness. His mule hit one in front of him, causing a female tour employee, a 36-year-old Maunaloa resident, to be knocked off her mule. She suffered injuries to her torso.

According to a history of the R.W. Meyer company, its namesake, Rudolph Wilhelm Meyer, left Hamburg, Germany, in 1849, and later settled on Molokai and married High Chiefess Kalama Waha. In December 1854, Meyer purchased more than 200 acres of pastureland at Kalae where he built a family homestead and raised 11 children with his wife. He farmed, raised cattle and developed the first sugar and coffee plantations on Molokai.

Meyer served as manager of royal lands on Molokai and was the first superintendent of the Kalaupapa settlement under the Board of Health for 30 years. He was Molokai’s district magistrate, postmaster, roadmaster and harbormaster, among other public offices, the company history says.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

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