Honolulu Star Bulletin 01/19/02)
By Ray Pendleton
A Water Ways reader recently asked if I thought our state's recreational boating facilities would be better operated by a private, for-profit company.
My answer was, "Go look in the phone book."
By this I meant, open up the yellow pages and check out the listings under the general category of boats: boat brokers, boat builders, boat charters, boat dealers, boat repairs and service, boat equipment and so forth.
It doesn't take long to read them all because they take up less than a page and a half. In fact, there are more listings for the next major category -- body piercing -- than there are for marine repair services.
So how does that relate to the question of who should run our marinas?
To me, the number of phone book listings is something of a barometer for measuring the demand for any business activity in the community.
When nearly a million people live on an island in one of the world's most ideal environments for boating, and yet so few boating-related businesses can be supported, it surely points to a lack of growth or even normal turnover within that industry.
The state of Hawaii has, over many years, created numerous "small boat harbors" throughout the islands. But, these facilities have been basic at best and waterfront slums at worst .
Completely missing are the kinds of shore-side businesses found elsewhere in the world that attract investors and visitors and whose income helps to defray marina construction and operating expenses.
To compound the lack of adequate facilities, mooring fees at the state-run marinas have remained so low they have not provided enough funding for proper maintenance or staffing.
The under-market-value fees have also had the negative effect of contributing to the years-long waiting lists for slips.
They have encouraged many of those with slips to look upon their boats as low cost housing rather than a form of recreation and to keep boats long after their seaworthiness has expired.
Conversely, if mooring fees were brought up to a fair market value -- even with needed improvements -- boat owners may tend to reassess their devotion to boating.
Some may decide the expense doesn't match their current interest and their slips would soon become available to other boaters with a more enthusiastic outlook.
Or, there may be boaters who will decide to get back into boating with more vigor to justify the additional expense.
Either way, the recreational boating industry would receive an economic shot in the arm with the sale of more boats, hardware, electronics and equipment. It would also cause more employment of repair and maintenance services.
It would then seem reasonable that such growth would soon be seen as new listings in the yellow pages and, of course, make its contribution to the state's overall economy.
But, it would seem unreasonable to expect the changes needed for such growth to come from a governmental agency rather than private management. After all, it is the state's 40-year track record that got things where they are right now.
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