Lanai Networks

March 8, 2010

Uninhabited until the 1500s, Lanai was purchased in 1922 by James Dole and it became the world’s foremost grower and exporter of pineapples. Managing a plantation of over 200,000 acres of pineapple fields, the Dole Pineapple Company built Lanai City and its energy grid of above ground transmission lines and structures to support their operations. To recharge the ground water aquifer, the company planted millions of Cook Island Pines that condense fog as it passes over the island surface. Today, the pineapple industry has left the island and its current owners, Castle and Cooke, are engaged in the process of modifying the ecology of the island by creating new resources in the form of landscapes, water, and energy to support a new economic model for its growth. economy. Landscape architect Marcel Wilson explains the history, challenges and opportunities that this singular island is facing.


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Hawaiian Islands. © NASA.

The Hawaiian islands have bubbled up over millions of years as the Pacific plate passed over the thin spot in the earth’s mantle that volcanologists call the “Hawaiian hot spot”. Ridge lines and high elevations divide the main populated islands into windward and leeward sides, except for Lanai. While the windward sides of the other islands receive the trade winds and associated rainfall, Lanai has relatively low elevations, its ridgeline is more parallel to the winds, and it is in the rain shadow of Maui and Molokai. This combination of climatic and geomorphic factors has resulted in significantly fewer natural resources on the island of Lanai, and its own distinct sublime beauty.

The character of Lanai is rugged. It has vast planes of volcanic soil and low elevations. It is dominable in comparison to the other islands endowed and conflicted with extreme topography and natural wonders such as volcanoes, endless wide beaches, natural harbors, or waterfalls. As a result it has not attracted a diversity of private development. Instead it has been owned by one owner at a time, and infused with investment capital. With complete control of the land, different owners have had the latitude to augment or replace the island’s natural systems to create resources for food, water, energy, and exports. Technology has played an instrumental role in supporting the island economy, and infrastructure on Lanai is evolving from rudimentary systems that simply support industry, to sophisticated networked systems that support life and industry on Lanai and other islands as well. This account of its industrial history and current conditions suggests that Lanai is an early indicator of the challenges and strategies that will evolve as the State of Hawaii transitions to a post foreign oil economy into an era of sharing resources among the islands like the mainland United States shares between individual states.

Past: Exile to Industry

Hawaiian legend tells the stories of the island being infested by evil spirits until the great Maui Chief Kakaalaneo exiled one of his sons to the island as punishment. Eight miles across the Maui channel on Lanai, his son Kauluaau rid the islands of its evil spirits and made it safe for the people of Maui to visit and eventually settle on the island. Fish farming and modest agricultural projects were necessary for early settlers, and began the pattern of creating resources for survival. Slowly the island attracted missionaries, scientific researchers, explorers, and eventually the practice of cattle ranching was drawn to the expansive plains of low-growing vegetation.

In 1922, Jim Dole purchased the entire island for 1.1 million dollars and converted 15,000 acres for pineapple cultivation. The industry injected capital, infrastructure, and labor into what was previously raw land on a gamble that the vertical integration of pineapple cultivation and processing would give the enterprise a strategic advantage in the canned fruit industry. In time the agricultural venture grew to become the world’s largest pineapple plantation.

This massive gamble of converting raw land into a factory for pineapple production was made possible by technological innovation. In 1913 Dole invested in the Ginaca machine, a device that could peel and core 35 pineapples per minute. Previously this labor was done by hand, and the cost of pineapple was pegged to this tedious process. With the Ginaca machine, supply became the limiting factor and it drove the need for land and expansion.

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Ginaca machine. © Castle and Cook.

Dole was a patron of new technology as many captains of industry were at the time. Inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, he sponsored the Dole Air Race in 1927 and put up $35,000 in prize money for the first pilots to travel the 2,800 miles from Oakland, California, to Honolulu. Eight teams attempted the challenge, only 2 were successful. Aviation was in its infancy, and Dole was clearly speculating on its potential to create access to the Hawaiian Islands and increasing the range of his investments.

Pineapple cultivation is hard, dirty, physically grueling work. It is labor intensive, and is commercially grown in southern latitudes. In 1920, before affordable air travel and the global shipping industry, pineapple was exotic to mainland markets and a profitable venture. The value of canned pineapple drew waves of imported laborers to the island of Lanai from Korea, the Philippines, Japan, China, and Portugal. This industry and its workforce drove the technological and infrastructural investment in the island, increased the demand for resources, and furthered the set of practices that created resources on the island to be converted into energy and exports.

The Dole Corporation built the plantation town of Lanai City, and a power grid to supply the buildings and the pineapple processing operations. Wood framed and clad buildings painted a uniform deep green were laid out on a basic grid. Pine power poles and wires line the streets and distributed energy generated from petroleum. The power infrastructure is still in use today. It is raw, durable, stout, and exposed for easy access. Roads were cut into the red volcanic soil for the operations of the pineapple industry: transporting labor, moving goods and machinery, distributing resources, and maintaining the infrastructure. Large mammal species were introduced as a source of protein for workers engaged in the hard labor associated with the continuous production of pineapple. The Axis deer, originally a gift to King Kamehameha from the King of India, was introduced on the island in 1920’s. Moufflon sheep, pheasant, wild turkey, feral pig, feral goat, and pronghorn antelope have all been introduced on the island with varying degrees of success, failure, and destruction to the native vegetation.

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Hawaiian Islands. © Castle and Cook.

Perhaps the most visible and transformative infrastructure introduced by the pineapple industry is the distinctive Cook Island pines that line the streets of Lanai City, span the ridge tops of the mountains, and dot the landscape in strategic phalanx exposed to the prevailing winds. The pines are native to Polynesia, and can grow to a mature height of over 130 feet. They were introduced to augment the water systems, and recharge the ground water aquifers by condensing fog as it passes over the low elevations of the island. Today the pines remain and are estimated to contribute 50% of the island’s fresh water resources.

The pineapple industry and ranching dominated the island economy, changed its hydrology, and augmented its ecology with alien plant and animal species in a production scheme that merged the islands natural resources and arable lands into a part biological and part industrial machine for the production and export of the exotic fruit. The culture of the island was an eclectic mix of ethnicities installed, housed, sustained, managed, and supported by one company that dominated the pineapple industry for much of the last century.

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Newspaper article from 1926 establishing Lanai as the pineapple kingdom. © Castle and Cook.

In December of 1991 the Dole Packaged Foods company laid off 500 workers. By 1990 Hawaii’s share of the global pineapple market had shrunk to 10%. By contrast, Thailand was producing 40 percent of the world’s pineapple supplies. At that time a picker in Hawaii was making $8.23 an hour, and a picker in Thailand was making $6 per day. The Ginaca machine shifted the investment of human energy from processing to cultivation labor. Global economic forces undercut the cost of labor and moved the industry to another continent.

There is an inverse correlation between the decline in the pineapple industry and the rise of the tourism industry in Hawaii. In 1955 the tourism industry for the islands produced $55 million in revenues, while pineapple production was more than $110 million and provided 12,000 jobs. By 1990 the pineapple industry produced $215 million in revenue and 3,450 jobs, while the tourism industry surged to a 9.4 billion dollar industry for the Hawaiian islands. Jim Dole’s side interest in creating access to the islands through aviation converged with shifts in global produce markets to make the pineapple industry in Hawaii obsolete.

Present: Hydro / Electric Tourism

Today, 98 percent of Lanai is owned by Castle & Cooke Inc., a Los Angeles based real estate company that bought out Dole in 1961. The company is run by the self-made billionaire David Murdock. Under Murdock’s direction the company is setting out to create a more authentic Hawaiian experience stepping away from the proven Hawaiian “fantasy” tourism model. Similar to Dole they are the dominant employer on the island, and are engaged in the process of modifying the ecology of the island by creating new resources in the form of landscapes, water, and energy to support a new economic model for its growth.

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Fallow pineapple field showing traces of early infrastructure. © Castle and Cook.

Castle & Cooke began its transformation of the island by shutting down the pineapple industry. Thousands of acres bare the traces of pineapple cultivation in fallow fields and exposed red earth. They built a new water system, spent $50 million on subsidized housing, and have attempted to create local goodwill by building a new recreation center for residents. The company has built two luxury resorts and golf courses managed by Four Seasons Hotels. One is at the base of the mountains, and one is at the ocean. Land has been subdivided, and horizontal infrastructure has been laid for private home construction. These are luxurious tourism infrastructures with sprawling grounds, championship golf courses, and gardens that are designed to draw international capital to the remote island that is in competition with the resorts of Oahu, Hawaii, and Maui. To date Castle & Cooke has invested over 1 billion dollars the island. They have lost at least 20 million dollars per year since 2006.

To create a distinct brand for the island experience, Castle & Cooke is converting and marketing the resources of the pineapple industry for use in the new era of tourism. Predictably, the charm of the plantation town vernacular architecture will be co-opted for the architectural theme of new commercial development in Lanai City. Roads cut for access to pineapple fields are now four-wheel-drive roads for rental jeep adventure excursions beyond the resorts. And the populations of birds and large mammals that were introduced on the island as a protein source are now managed populations that are marketed to sportsmen for hunting and adventure expeditions. Fallow pineapple fields are now grazing lands for the herds of axis deer whose large antlers make impressive Trophies. Water resources for pineapple irrigation are now supporting recreation landscapes like golf courses, and scenery. And the ubiquitous Cook Island pines continue to be passive infrastructure for replenishing the fresh water aquifers. They have also become an icon for the Island brands and experiences. There is a grouping at the entry to the airport. Small ones line the roads to the beach resort. Mature ones line the road to the mountain resort. They are the logo on the golf towels.

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4 wheel drive adventure outing on former roads cut for pineapple field access. © Castle and Cook.

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Deer hunting. © Castle and Cook.

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Manele Golf Course, an irrigated recreation landscape inserted into native forest. © Castle and Cook.

While the island as a destination is not patterned on the Hawaiian fantasy resort model according to Castle & Cooke, the design of the resorts is hardly expressive of this claim. Clearly driven by the appearance of luxury and exclusivity, they rely heavily on the image of the Hawaiian fantasy vacation in the lush tropics of a windward location, when they are located on the island with the fewest water resources. To create this marketable illusion they rely on robust irrigation systems, the full capability of the islands water systems, and energy to extract and distribute the water.

Lanai has five water systems wholly owned and operated by subsidiaries of Castle & Cooke. There are 78 miles of active pipeline (by comparison the island has 30 miles of paved roads), 4.8 million gallons of potable storage tanks, and 38 million gallons of non potable storage including water features at the resorts. It is a huge system that only serves about 1,500 customers. The metered demand for the customer base is 1.66 million gallons per day. 1.1 million gallons (68%) is used for irrigation. Castle & Cooke projects that demand will reach as much as 7 million gallons per day, the equivalent of the maximum output by all of the water sources on the island. To meet these future demands there are a limited number of new water production alternatives for the island. Among them are desalination of brackish water or sea water, and pumping from new wells, both of which require steady sources of energy. The projections for future water use suggest that their development strategy will continue to rely on the practice of modifying the ecology of the island with scenic and recreation landscapes for tourism, that are run on water and energy.

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Resort with an irrigated scenery. © Castle and Cook.

Their first capital investment in energy supply for the island is a solar farm of 7,400 panels that cover a 10-acre site. The array will supply 30% of the island’s current peak energy demand, and is part of a larger plan to make the island’s energy supply entirely renewable by 2020. It is a state of-the-art facility that uses sun tracking technology which creates greater power production out of fewer panels in less land area. Every panel can be remotely controlled from 50 miles away at the county power authority center on the island of Maui.

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Solar farm in Lanai. © Castle and Cook.

Future: Networked Resources

The next phase of energy and economic development will create an export commodity- wind energy. It will develop an untapped resource on the island and sell the energy to Oahu, the largest power user in the state. Castle & Cooke will use the profits to further develop water, power, and infrastructure on Lanai. The geography of Lanai creates tremendous wind energy potential. Trade winds from the east are funneled through the channel between Molokai and Lanai, accelerating speed and focusing their energy as it reaches the northwest point of the island. Wind analysis in combination with its accessible topography makes it one of the best sites for wind energy in the state. In 2011 Castle & Cooke will begin building a $750 million power project and erect 200 windmills on 12,000 acres. The energy will be conveyed in a submarine cable to Oahu, 70 miles away. Castle & Cooke sees the compromise of a small portion of Lanai’s scenic beauty as the way for the development of the island to not be entirely reliant on real estate to generate capital.

Even though most of the island residents work for Castle & Cooke, there is an organized local resistance to this plan that is partly rooted in the opinion that a wind farm will ruin the scenic beauty of the island. This is a criticism that has been directed at other Castle & Cooke projects, and part of a larger skepticism of the intentions of Castle & Cooke and CEO David Murdock. While they do not own the land, residents of the island understandably question the intent of a single company that has in a short period of time changed the economy and ecology of the island in the name of preserving its character. From Castle & Cooke’s perspective, Lanai is a sizeable but fledgling investment in a massive portfolio of business holdings. With control of all of the land, they are accelerating the development curve to convert resources, embed new technology and infrastructure in the landscape, and create an export commodity in the form of wind energy to fund their investment and the Lanai economy.

It is unlikely that the pace and tact of global scale capital investment will mesh on all points with the mindset of island life. Lanai is a commodity to one and a religion to the other. If they can be aligned on the issue of energy, it will be on the statewide initiative to achieve 70% clean energy sources by 2030. Currently, 90% of Hawaii’s energy comes from imported oil.

The State as a whole is rich in potential renewable resources- sun, wind, water, and geothermal resources all exist, but they are dispersed. No one island can provide for all its modern needs. As a state they have to invest in technology, develop resources, and share between the islands to end their dependence on imported oil. Resolving the issues involved in scenic value as a tourist commodity, the proximity of users to resources, and networks for distribution will be on ongoing debate in the process.

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Lanai networked resources. © NASA / Marcel Wilson.