Privatization of harbors the way to go

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 04/26/03
By Ray Pendleton

The challenge came from a friend over a pau hana beer.

"Over the years you've written more than once about the need for more and better managed marinas in Hawai`i," he said. "How about condensing it all into one succinct position paper?"

By my best count, I've written about the advantages of privatization more than 30 times in the past 10 years, so even though he was asking me to compress some 16,500 words into 550, I agreed to give it a try.

I've always felt that as residents of a state surrounded by water, Hawaii's movers and shakers -- both in the public and private sectors -- haven't and still don't fully appreciate the potential economic impact of our recreational boating industry.

Hawaii's warm, azure ocean is teeming with game fish and its nearly constant trades are a sailor's dream. It could be a boater's paradise but for a lack of sufficient infrastructure.

As our baby-boomer population enters a phase of life that allows it more leisure time and disposable income, Hawai`i has virtually all of its marinas filled and in need of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance.

Elsewhere in the world, governments, together with industry, have recognized recreational boating's economic potential and are expanding their facilities accordingly. Last year, Mexico announced its intention of spending $30 billion -- yes, billion -- on marina construction along its west coast in order to lure more big-spending boaters from the north.

Compare that with Maui, where visiting boaters are forced to anchor offshore and residents who would like to rent a slip in Lahaina or Maalaea harbors are faced with 15-year waiting lists -- and no new construction planned for the future.

So, who's to blame for this state of affairs?

From my perspective, nearly all of those who have been in a position to make a change in the last 40 years must share the responsibility.

In the private sector, even famed developer Henry Kaiser came up short when he constructed the waterfront community of Hawaii Kai with shallow canals and limited ocean access.

In the public sector, there are the lawmakers who, year after year, fail to pass the legislation needed to properly fund the maintenance and expansion of our boating facilities -- or to even allow the private sector the opportunity to do so.

Haseko's Ocean Pointe Marina in Ewa Beach have been presented with so many roadblocks their plans may never come to fruition.

Then there are the bureaucrats who run Hawaii's marinas who, according to our state's auditor, have a long history of fiscal mismanagement -- and according to most visiting yachtsmen, an equally long history of inhospitable behavior.

It seems to me that our state-owned marinas -- officially called "small boat harbors" --might best be privatized under a port authority or district, similar to San Diego or Santa Cruz, Calif.

In one city the commissioners are appointed and in the other they are, perhaps more properly, elected. But in either case, their job is to utilize the lands in and around the harbors to the community's best advantage, with consideration for the environment, public recreation, revenue production and safety.

Check out their Web sites at and and see if you don't agree it just might work here.

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