Just in case you missed Saturday's Star-Bulletin

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (09/27/97)
By Ray Pendleton

Howard Gehring apparently didn't enjoy retirement.

If you're asking who is Howard Gehring, let me explain. He is the recently retired rear admiral who commanded Hawaii's 14th Coast Guard District, which includes nearly all of the North Pacific and the islands therein.

When he opted for retirement in Hawai`i last year rather than accepting a new post in Washington, D.C., I knew we would have the pleasure of his company in the pursuit of recreational boating. But I never dreamt he would step back into the world of government boating management.

Some might call it going from the frying pan into the fire as Gehring has now been appointed the acting administrator for the Boating and Ocean Recreation Division of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources. That means that he has responsibility for virtually all of Hawaii's rather third-world-class recreational boating facilities, along with other administrative duties.

Gehring's appointment comes at a rather dynamic moment in history for the state's marinas, or "small boat harbors," as they have been labeled.

After World War II, the state, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, created recreational boating facilities throughout our major islands and, unlike most governments with coastal authority, proceeded to manage their day-to-day operations.

Also, for reasons I have yet to learn, the state did not establish user fees using the rule of supply and demand, or even fees on a scale that would cover expenses.

This financial imbalance, or what some might label a state subsidy of boating, really started to become an issue when our economy began to sink a few years ago. Hard financial times demanded better accounting practices and brought up questions about everything from administration and maintenance operations to boater education and law enforcement.

Some boaters in the Ala Wai harbor have demanded a semiautonomous state for their particular marina, where they would run things with "community-based management." The concept is essentially what a yacht club is all about and brings with it some questions regarding public access. Additionally, the idea might tend to exacerbate the state's overall problem by pulling O`ahu's most popular and financially successful marina out of the equation.

Other boaters see advantages in the privatization of many, if not all, of the state's small boat harbors. After all, they opine, most of the marinas in the U.S. - and elsewhere, for that matter - are successfully run by private enterprise, are priced at a fair market value, and are in better shape than those in Hawai`i.

For some boaters though, privatization is viewed as an increase of "300 percent or more" in user fees and the development of a whole lot of "amenities" (i.e., haulout/repair/storage/supply facilities, restaurants, bars and clubhouses) "Hawaii's boaters" are not interested in.

Left unexplained by these advocates of the status quo is how that future fee projection was arrived at and how they had polled "Hawaii's boaters" for their opinions. Could it be that boaters here are so very different from those around the world who more often enjoy more than just basic amenities?

Now, Howard Gehring, the man who's job it will be to help mold an equitable solution for our boating future, is asking for "advice from the community."

This is the time to let your opinions be known. You may not be asked again.

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