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Murdock bought out fellow Castle & Cooke shareholders for nearly $700 million in 2000 and took the company private.

The island boasts unspoiled charm with 30 miles of paved roads, 400 miles of unpaved roads and no traffic lights. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, more than 26,000 people visited the island from January to April of this year, a 6 percent decline from the same period last year.

The utilities commission is reviewing the prospective deal because it involves indirectly transferring public utilities Castle & Cooke owns on the island _ a water company, a bus and shuttle service, and the island’s wastewater utility. Castle & Cooke asked for interim approval by June 26.

Hawaii law requires commission approval to transfer public utilities, and the commission will try to make its decision by that date, said Sean Mikell of the PUC’s research division, which is considering the application. The commission does not have jurisdiction over the sale of the island, aside from the transfer of public utilities.

J. Kalani English, a state senator who represents Lanai in Hawaii’s Legislature, said he’s hopeful the sale to Ellison will mean a return of agriculture to the island.

“I’m relieved because he’s one of the richest people on the planet, which means he knows he’ll lose a lot of money in the beginning and he can sustain that,” said English, a Democrat.

English said Ellison has been known to vacation on Lanai.

Robin Kaye, president of Friends of Lanai, said he wasn’t surprised to hear who the buyer is because Ellison’s name has been floating around the island lately.

Before Murdock announced he would keep wind farm rights on the island, Kaye said he hoped Ellison wouldn’t pursue the project.

“Lanai is worth more than supplying power to Oahu,” Kaye said.

Seventh-generation Lanaian Sol Kahoohalahala said he hopes to see an end to high unemployment and more opportunities for economic development beyond tourism.

“I look at this as a potential opportunity for us to get the new owner to look at Lanai in terms of an island that needs to work at sustaining itself,” he said. “Tourism cannot be the only economic engine on Lanai.”

Kahoohalaha’s family managed to hold on to some Lanai land. The 2 percent Ellison isn’t buying is owned by the state, county and private residents.

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Associated Press writer Lisa Leff in San Francisco contributed to this report.