Marina plan better late than never

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (01/15/00)
By Ray Pendleton

More than five years ago, newly elected Governor Ben Cayetano excited our recreational boating community by making a commitment to address their concerns by creating a world-class boating program in Hawai`i.

With the pledge of "doing the right thing, because it's the right thing to do," Cayetano listed five steps he believed would help the state's Boating Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources establish such a program.

First he proposed to put major emphasis on more direct operational management for all state boating facilities.

Second, he promised to release all earlier appropriated priority maintenance funds to jump-start the maintenance needs of all state boating facilities.

Third, he vowed to immediately begin to investigate how to more efficiently and appropriately use the state's boating program's lands and facilities to increase revenue and make the program truly self-sufficient.

Fourth, he said he would evaluate the placement of some law enforcement authority with Harbor Agents to assure appropriate security and response to the needs of boaters.

And, fifth, he called for a comprehensive, statewide boating program, which would include clearly defined responsibilities and operational standards for boaters and facilities.

In retrospect, it would seem that few of the governor's five steps to establish a "world-class boating program" for our state have become reality.

But recently, the governor, in asking the Legislature to approve the privatization and commercialization of two of Hawaii's small boat harbors on O`ahu - Keehi and Ala Wai - has once more given recreational boaters something to get excited about.

Some boat owners, I am sure, will get excited because the change is personally threatening. They are like the guy in a poker game with four aces, they don't want a new deal. They have a slip for their boat, and never mind that the facilities are slum-like, the rates are incredibly cheap.

The fact is, even if the marinas were to continue as state-run operations, mooring rates are sure to go up to meet maintenance costs and to cover the debt services from previous capital improvement loans.

Other, and perhaps, most boat owners (and especially potential owners) will be excited because the move from state-run to business-run marinas will finally bring Hawai`i more in line with the vast majority of other public jurisdictions. Almost universally, the norm is for the private sector to lease public protected waters and, in turn, pay for the privilege of operating a business there.

In order to offer a competitive product, the marina operators then design and construct facilities to appeal to a broad range of boaters. Docks are state-of-the-art, bathrooms and showers are clean, locked and for boaters only, and total marina security is maintained with 24-hour coverage.

In 1998, a state House committee killed a bill aimed at marina privatization because the administration could not show how it would generate as much revenue as the present system. But, this year, the administration apparently has such data.

State Land Board chairman Timothy Johns reportedly gave his approval for the privatization proposal to the House Finance Committee, with the opinion that the major capitol improvements needed at the Ala Wai facility could be handled as a part of the revitalization of Waikiki.

As this is Governor Cayetano's last year in office, perhaps just in time, he will give Hawai`i the beginnings of "a world-class boating program."

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