Fee increases OK if money is well spent
AS I advised boaters in last week's Water Ways, the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation held an informal hearing last Tuesday evening in Waikiki.
It was the first of nine statewide public meetings where recreational boaters were asked to voice their opinions regarding DOBOR's proposed slip fee increases, as well as hikes in offshore mooring fees, commercial fees and launching ramp fees.
I also noted last week that because the proposed increases were so negligible and our boating infrastructure is so obviously in need of operating capital, it seemed there would be little to discuss.
The current fees (the highest: $4.10 per foot a month in the Ala Wai) are less than half of what boaters pay virtually anywhere else in the U.S.
So, once the testimony began, it wasn't very surprising to listen as boaters, one after another, generally voiced their grudging support for the increase.
Only one of the dozen, or so, who spoke -- out of some 50 boaters in attendance -- suggested that, as a live-aboard, he felt the current fees should stay the same, or be "grand-fathered," to the retired and elderly.
Still, the overwhelming majority didn't seem to be so much concerned with paying more for mooring their vessels, but rather they had serious reservations about how that revenue has been and will be spent.
Another live-aboard from the Ala Wai agreed with the increase, but voiced his concern for accountability from DOBOR.
"There seems to be money," Brian Moore said, "but where does it go?"
Boat owner Reg White echoed Moore's concern by saying that he too thought DOBOR's raises in slip fees were acceptable, but its accountability was in question.
White had particular concern about how and where the two proposed $10 million capital improvement project bond issues -- which are tied to additional second- and third-year fee increases -- would be used.
After adding his affirmation for the need for the increase, but with accountability, boater Steve Holmes pointed to a "Catch-22" issue at the Ala Wai marina: "People are afraid to report poor dock conditions because their slip may be condemned, so we fix things ourselves."
Rachael Simon, another boat owner from the Ala Wai, expressed her embarrassment at inviting friends down to her boat because of the poor conditions. "I don't mind an increase," she said, "but I do want to see something for it."
And finally, boat owner Richard Johnson suggested DOBOR should implement the state auditor's recommendations to put its fiscal house in order.
From my perspective it would appear that DOBOR will likely have smooth sailing in implementing its fee increase to Hawaii's boat owners.
But it may have some very stormy weather ahead if it doesn't work harder at plotting a better course for maintaining what should be its flagship marina, the Ala Wai.