An attorney specializing in water who relocated to Hawaii in late 2019 to join PSP Investments-backed Mahi Pono has assumed a California-based role focused in part on new initiatives at affiliate Pomona Farming.
Tim O’Laughlin joined the Maui-headquartered farming company to serve as chief operating officer in October 2019.
The former lieutenant governor of Hawaii, Shan Tsutsui, who had been serving as Mahi Pono’s senior vice-president of operations since early 2019, has assumed the role of chief operating officer.
“Tsutsui succeeds Tim O’Laughlin who will be relocating to California to focus on new initiatives for both Mahi Pono and Pomona Farming,” the company said in a statement.
Redwood City, California-headquartered Pomona Farming is a global investment and food branding company founded by executives associated with Trinitas Partners, which is also headquartered in Redwood City.
In late 2018, Pomona partnered with C$169.8 billion ($132.3 billion; €110.6 billion) PSP on the purchase of a 41,000-acre property from Honolulu-headquartered real estate company Alexander & Baldwin, which established Mahi Pono.
The property had been operated for 150 years, until 2016, as the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company. The acquisition also included Maui-headquartered grass-fed cattle pasturing operation Kulolio Ranch, Central Maui Feedstocks and the establishment of a joint venture with A&B to own and operate the East Maui Irrigation company.
PSP senior managing director and global head of natural resources Marc Drouin told Agri Investor in February 2019 the irrigation assets and associated water licenses acquired were a key component of plans to grow citrus, coffee and other crops on the property.
Prior to joining Mahi Pono, O’Laughlin was founding partner at O’Laughlin & Paris, a Sacramento, California-headquartered law firm founded in 1997 that specializes in water law, public agency representation, environmental compliance and litigation.
According to a biography from the firm, O’Laughlin has experience before the California State Water Resources Control Board and acted as lead counsel for the San Joaquin River Group Authority in the Bay-Delta Water Rights hearing.
“As a result of Mr O’Laughlin’s efforts, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted the settlement proposal offered by the San Joaquin River Group Authority as the sole method for meeting the flow dependent objectives of the San Joaquin River Basin,” according to the biography.
O’Laughlin’s professional experience was not referenced in Mahi Pono’s 2019 statement announcing his addition to the management team.
In November 2019, Mahi Pono presented Hawaii’s state Commission on Water Resource Management with an agreed settlement to a long-running dispute with community groups that would grant it access to more than 11 million gallons per day from the Na Wai Eha (Four Great Waters) stream flows in central Maui.
The allocation was lower than the 36 million gallons per day requested by the former sugar company, which Tsutsui said at the time should put to rest the “unsubstantiated fear that Mahi Pono was going to use water for future development.”
O’Laughlin also addressed concerns Mahi Pono was working with PSP to “privatize water” in a January 2020 interview with the Maui News. He said Mahi Pono was not profiting from selling water and had no plans to do so in the future, highlighting that regulations stipulate water be used for “agriculture and other reasonable and beneficial uses.”
O’Laughlin outlined the company’s work with the state Commission on Water Resources Management to ensure transparency around water use and reiterated Mahi Pono’s long-term commitment to developing the region’s ag sector. Mahi Pono planned to spend $6 million on upgrades to the East Maui Irrigation system in 2020, according to the article.
“We want to be good neighbors,” he said. “We’re here for the long haul.”
Mahi Pono declined to make O’Laughlin available for interview.
PSP declined to address written questions regarding O’Laughlin’s relocation. In an email to Agri Investor, a PSP representative expressed confidence in leadership teams’ oversight of personnel changes and wrote that the pension engages “regularly” with portfolio companies as a “cornerstone of its investment philosophy.”