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PSP’s Hawaii farming venture hires water-focused attorney as COO

Tim O’Laughlin said he will rely heavily on Mahi Pono’s Maui-based leadership to liaise with the local community as it builds towards managing 4,000 acres of food crops by next year.

Mahi Pono, a Maui, Hawaii-headquartered farming company backed by PSP Investments and California ag firm Pomona Farming, has hired water law and public agency representation specialist Tim O’Laughlin as its chief operating officer.

Mahi Pono said O’Laughlin assumed the new position at the beginning of the month. In the role, O’Laughlin will oversee ownership and investor relations, management operations, business oversight and legal matters.

In a statement, O’Laughlin said he will rely “heavily” on Mahi Pono’s leadership to liaise with the local community and oversee government relations, business strategy, management operations, communications and sales and distribution.

“This is the natural evolution of Mahi Pono as we have grown from 23 employees in March with no planted acreage to projected plantings of more than 4,000 acres of food crops and 200 employees in 2020,” said O’Laughlin.

Established last year through a joint venture with Pomona Farming, Mahi Pono owns and operates 41,000 acres of central Maui farmland previously operated by the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company.

PSP managing director and natural resources head Marc Drouin told Agri Investor earlier this year the Mahi Pono investment reflected the expertise and comfort his team had built in agriculture over the past three years.

Among the factors that made the former Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company property deal a good fit, said Drouin, was the inclusion of a suite of wetland and irrigation assets maintained on the property by the seller, Hawaiian real estate company Alexander & Baldwin.

“If we didn’t have the irrigation assets and the associated water licenses, we wouldn’t have been able to undertake the cropping plan that we have here, it’s all very integrated,” he said.

According to his profile on its website, O’Laughlin is a founding member of O’Laughlin & Paris, a California law firm specializing in water resource law, environmental compliance, public agency representation and compliance.

Local opposition? 

Local weekly newspaper Maui Time wrote that O’Laughlin has long been associated with Trinitas Partners, an ag-focused investment firm that shares executives (including Kirk Hoiberg) with Mahi Pono joint venture partner Pomona Farming.

The article described local activists’ reaction to O’Laughlin’s having been listed among potential Mahi Pono representatives at a July meeting of the Maui Board of Water Supply and added his hire should “strike fear into the hearts of everyone working to protect Maui’s water.”

“The O’Laughlin announcement pretty much cements the growing perception that Mahi Pono is much more interested in water than planting crops and that its executives have no desire to set down roots in the community,” wrote author Deborah Caulfield Rybak.

PSP and Mahi Pono declined comment. O’Laughlin did not return messages seeking further detail.