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Thursday, November 18, 2004



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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Harbor repairs and maintenance deeply concern Ala Wai boaters like Reg White, who relaxed yesterday aboard his boat, Audacious II.




State seeks
mooring fee
increase

The cost of keeping a boat at
the Ala Wai or other state harbors
could go up 25% to 40%

Mooring fees at most state recreational boat harbors would rise 25 to 40 percent next year under a proposal that would triple spending for repair and maintenance.

Additional hikes in future years to fund $20 million in harbor capital improvement projects also are being floated -- but would require legislative approval.

If the Board of Land and Natural Resources approves the proposed administrative rule changes tomorrow, public hearings could be held statewide later this year, and the rates could go into effect in 2005, Chairman Peter Young said. There have been no mooring fee increases since 1995.

"The goal of these fees is to raise sufficient funds to make appropriate repairs and, if authorized by the Legislature, to make significant capital improvements," Young said.




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Hawaii's recreational harbors have been criticized for years by boaters and the state auditor for their lack of upkeep and decrepit condition.

Last year, the state tore out 70 unsafe slips at the Ala Wai, but has not replaced them. Of 2,123 state-owned boat slips, 12 percent are unusable for safety reasons.

In October 2002 the state proposed slip fee increases ranging from 35 to 185 percent but never enacted them.

Boaters agreed some increase was warranted, but officials had not outlined how the money would be spent. Those concerns have not gone away.

"We really would like to see a plan first" explaining what the money will buy, said Bruce Middleton, who keeps a boat at the Ala Wai, the state's largest recreational boat harbor.

"In the past, particularly under previous administrations, there were many instances in which money in the boating program was lost, misdirected and misappropriated," Middleton said. "That's the reason why our harbors are in such a horrible state of disrepair."

Young said the base fee increase will allow spending for repairs and maintenance to rise to $1.5 million a year, up from $600,000 a year now. But he would not say what projects.

Young also would not say what capital improvements would be made if the Legislature OK'd two $10 million issues of general obligation bonds -- but he said each harbor would see at least one significant improvement.

Last year, lawmakers refused Young's request for $10 million for general obligation bonds for harbors. The revenue bonds they offered instead turned out to be unusable, he said.

"The state continues to talk about fee increases, but they don't talk about providing the things that the boaters of the state need," said yacht broker Rick Gaffney, of Kona on the Big Island.

"It's ludicrous," Gaffney said. "The state of Hawaii should have a quality boating program, could have a quality boating program but consistently fails to do so."

At $4.10 per foot of vessel, slip fees at the Ala Wai are less than half the cost of private Hawaii or mainland West Coast marinas, according to comparisons gathered by the state.

Under the state's proposed increase in the base slip rate, monthly rent for a 35-foot boat would be $183.75, up from the current $143.50.

If the Legislature approved two $10 million bond issues for improvements, two additional 8 percent hikes would raise monthly rent to $198.45, then $214.20.

"Our harbors don't compare to private harbors even with repairs and maintenance," Young admitted, so they should be cheaper. But they cannot stay in their current state, he said.

Earlier this year, the state told Hawaii counties it would be willing to listen if they wanted to take over state harbors. Maui, Honolulu and Kauai counties have expressed some interest, Young said.

Young also has informed some private developers that the state might consider privatization if the counties do not want the harbors.

"But I can't wait for that to happen," Young said. If nothing is done to repair the harbors, "it's going to get progressively worse. We need to do significant repair and maintenance."

Tomorrow's meeting is at 9 a.m. in the first-floor boardroom at 1151 Punchbowl St.

State Land Board meeting information
www.state.hi.us/dlnr/chair/meetings/index.htm
State Boating & Ocean Recreation Division
www.state.hi.us/dlnr/dbor/dbor.html
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