Private marina operators are the way to go

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 08/23/03
By Ray Pendleton

It's only been two weeks since I last addressed Hawaii's marina privatization issue, but due to the number of e-mailed questions and opinions I've received, perhaps it's time for more dialogue.

Since the 1950s, as most boaters here know, nearly all of our recreational boating facilities have been constructed, maintained and managed by the state. First by the Department of Transportation, and since 1992, by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

And, as most boaters, and state auditor Marion Higa, also know, the state's ability to maintain and manage these facilities has been slipshod at best.

Just a cursory inspection of any of our "Small Boat Harbors" offers graphic evidence of their physical decline after years of neglect.

I am always surprised to hear then, as one veteran boater opined, "I disagree with the privatization of marinas at this time." But then he added, "The problem 20 years ago was management ... today the problem is much worse, for management has killed the interest in boating."

That's my point exactly. The state, over several decades, has demonstrated its inability to manage our marinas. How can we expect any meaningful changes from it in the future?

Then what's the best choice for providing the boating public with marinas that are safe, affordable and secure, as well as for establishing healthy centers for marine economic development?

The pragmatic answer to me is to go to folks with proven track records -- established private marina operators.

Oh, I know, as more than one reader has said, "Hawaii's a very unique place and what works elsewhere often doesn't work here."

However, just one visit to West Oahu's Ko Olina Marina shows empirically that private marinas can work well here. With its annual boat shows and marine-related expos, Ko Olina has shown that marinas can be community meeting places.

They can also boost the general economy by promoting recreational boat sales and services that create jobs and tax revenues for the state.

As an alternative to for-profit privatization, one reader suggested the possibility of forming a non-profit partnership, or hui, for marina management.

"Why couldn't boat owners form a hui with others in the community?" he asked. "Who knows best what the issues are than the users?"

From my perspective, proper marina management requires extensive experience and sufficient operating capital and commitment to ensure the organization's longevity.

Also, non-profits tend to rely on volunteers to lower operating costs, which often promotes a constantly changing work force.

There are, though, two hui-like non-profit marina operators currently existing in O`ahu's Ala Wai harbor: The Hawaii and Waikiki yacht clubs.

Both clubs lease dry and submerged land from the state to provide boating facilities and related activities for their members and guests. And although both offer sailing instruction to the general public, other access is limited.

Their members not only pay higher mooring rates than the rest of the Ala Wai, they also pay initiation fees and dues. Should this be the model for our public marinas?

If you get to California, check out Dana Point Harbor for a better model, or try Ko Olina -- it's just a short drive away.

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