Ray Pendleton Water Ways

Ray Pendleton

Saturday, July 26, 2003

of marinas may
be the way

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I started getting announcements about the upcoming National Marina Day on Aug. 9.

Here were all these e-mails reminding me that numerous mainland states will be officially recognizing the contributions marinas make to their communities, while in this island state, our government-run marinas are largely ignored and neglected.

"Marinas serve a multitude of functions and are extremely valuable to communities," one Midwest boating representative stressed.

"National Marina Day gives us a chance to show off these impressive facilities, communicate the economic contribution they make to our ... communities and highlight the enjoyment they bring to the people living and visiting (our) great waterways."

What a concept. Can you imagine anyone in Hawaii referring to Keehi Lagoon, Waianae, Maalaea or Lahaina Small Boat Harbors in a similar manner?

But then it occurred to me -- duh -- Chicago is in the Midwest also, and that's where an award-winning company named Westrec took over the management of the city's marinas a few years ago.

Do you suppose there's any connection?

And, more importantly, do you suppose shifting Hawaii's marina management to that company, or any other, might give us a reason to celebrate National Marina Day here?

After all, Westrec is one of the companies most eager to take over the management of Hawaii's small-boat harbors.

About five years ago, there was a series of articles written by Neil Ross in Boating Industry Magazine regarding marina privatization in which he gave several reasons municipalities often look to the private sector for help.

He noted that public marinas in the U.S. are converting to private management at an increasing rate and most will be privatized in the next 15 years.

One reason, he wrote, is that public officials are looking for alternate ways to get better service at lower cost and even generate income because government money for boaters has largely disappeared.

A second reason for privatization -- and Hawaii's boaters can relate here -- is that many publicly built facilities are getting old, are more expensive to maintain and need major modernization.

Reason No. 3 is that government agencies are notoriously weak on maintenance budgets and, as a result, many public marinas are showing their age and are increasingly in disrepair.

This, too, is a point on which most boaters in Hawaii can agree.

Ross' fourth and final reason for marina privatization is that marinas are really hospitality businesses that must cater to and serve customers, but such service is not a strong feature of government agencies or their employees.

"Government workers are paid the same whether the marina does well or not, and they are not rewarded when they do a great job," Ross wrote.

"Some public marinas even close their offices on major holidays, such as Labor Day, when their facilities are most in demand," he added.

So, will Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources contract out the management of our state marinas to the private sector anytime soon?

From my perspective, it would seem to be the only way our state's recreational boaters will ever have reason to join the rest of the U.S. in a celebration of National Marina Day.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at


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