Secrecy surrounds ranch’s sale of 3,509 acres to biofuel pioneer

Michael Saalfeld, a German industrialist and biofuel pioneer, has purchased the North Kohala acreage Parker Ranch quietly sold in August, according to government records.

One of Saalfeld’s many companies, Kukuipahu Makai, paid $49.3 million for 35 parcels comprising 3,509 acres, according to Hawaii County tax records.

The state’s business registry lists Saalfeld and his wife, Jeannette, as the company’s only members.

Located on both sides of Akoni Pule Highway, the contiguous parcels extend from Mahukona Beach Park north nearly to Puakea Bay Ranch. They range in size from less than an acre to a 1,681-acre parcel.

Tremendous secrecy has surrounded both the sale and Saalfeld, who owns other large tracts of land and Big Island companies.

Rather than offering its property on the open market, Parker Ranch in August 2009 sent a “confidential information memorandum” to a small group of prospective buyers. Each recipient “will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement,” according to the document from then-CEO William “Bill” Maris. He was let go last month after less than a year in that position.

In August, Parker Ranch issued a one-page letter to employees, retirees and ohana confirming the sale of roughly 3 percent of its 128,000-acre holdings.

“We have a confidential agreement with the buyer, so there’s not a lot I can tell you,” Michael Gibson, chairman of the five-member Parker Ranch Foundation Trust that oversees ranch operations, told the Tribune-Herald at the time.

Gibson did not return a phone message left Monday. Repeated efforts to reach Saalfeld have been unsuccessful. Even some of his employees — the Waimea resident owns the 480-acre Ho’ea Agricultural Park near Upolu Point and SunFuels Hawaii — won’t talk about him.

SunFuels spokesman Rory Flynn said Monday that he doesn’t know how to reach Saalfeld and never hears from him.

While apparently unwilling to grant interviews, Saalfeld has been vocal with his checkbook since arriving on Hawaii Island about four years ago. He’s the anonymous donor who financed the $6.3 million energy lab Hawaii Preparatory Academy finished in January.

Saalfeld’s daughter, Clara, is currently an honor student at the private Waimea school, which is one of four beneficiaries of the Parker Ranch Foundation Trust.

He started SunFuels to produce biodiesel using a gasification process licensed by Choren Industries, a German company in which Saalfeld owns the controlling interest.

Saalfeld also serves on the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Board of Advisors. Unlike most of his 23 counterparts, however, Saalfeld’s biographical information is not listed on the school’s website.

In 2009, Saalfeld registered as a lobbyist with the state Ethics Commission. He had Flynn and at least one other employee testify in favor of allowing parties within a private agricultural park to generate, sell and transmit electricity to other park members without regulation by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The bill, which became law in June 2009, was introduced by state Rep. Cindy Evans, D-Kohala.

Saalfeld’s support for the bill, combined with his ownership of the Kohala agricultural park and background in electricity generation, created speculation among his North Kohala neighbors that he will develop a large power plant there.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald :: Hilo, Hawaii > Local News

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