Commission coming to the rescue
In 1993, as Hawaii was dealing with the effects of a faltering economy, the responsibility for administering our state-run recreational boating facilities was being passed from one bureaucracy to another.
Suddenly, the Department of Land and Natural Resources was the state's marina manager and perhaps unlike its predecessor -- the Department of Transportation -- it may have lacked business-oriented personnel to deal with the economic downturn.
Whatever the case, over the past dozen years, the DLNR has been repeatedly faulted by the state's auditor, and its boating facilities have been in a steady physical decline as well, even with our present economic revival. But the future may get brighter.
Earlier this year, Gov. Lingle formed an Economic Momentum Commission with the goal of developing an action plan to "reduce the traditional peaks and valleys of economic cycles and enhance Hawaii's natural and cultural resources." And, thankfully, one of its draft recommendations holds promise for the state's 21 small boat harbors.
Mind you, this is a 30-member, bipartisan commission that includes politicians such as Senate President Robert Bunda (D-North Shore, Wahiawa) and Speaker of the House Calvin Say (D-St. Louis Heights, Palolo), as well as leaders from business, education, union, military, non-profit, environmental and cultural organizations.
In July, the commission began generating practical ideas in three major areas: enhancing quality of life; improving employment, education and investment opportunities; and upgrading the infrastructure and reviewing the master planning process.
In regard to the boating infrastructure, the commission aptly notes, "Our Small Boat Harbors are at overcapacity and in disrepair. Hawaii deserves better. These harbors should be a showcase for Hawaii, both in terms of local recreational use and tourism."
To correct the problems, the commission recommends that the Legislature pass a resolution directing the DLNR to establish an agreement allowing the lease of the small boat harbors to either the counties or private concessions.
"This step would place the management of these facilities closer to the people," it explains.
Such regulations would require at least 50 percent of the slip inventory to be "affordably priced," the commission proposes, and such leases would also require the lessees to significantly upgrade and expand these facilities for the benefit of our economy and our citizens.
As one who has written of the merits of a public/private partnership for our state-run marinas for years, I've learned not to get too hopeful in expecting innovative thinking at the state level.
Still, perhaps Sen. Fred Hemmings (R-Kailua, Hawaii Kai) -- another commission member -- had a good point this week when he told me, "By now, even the most jaded legislator must see the neglect of our small boat harbors and understand the need for action."