Enrich harbor lifeline with maritime uses
IN THE native tongue, Honolulu means "sheltered cove." For more than 200 years, Honolulu has been the Hawaiian archipelago's gathering place for commerce and government. As a noncontinental community, our lifeline is Honolulu Harbor.
Honolulu Harbor's history is unique among major North American port cities. While port facilities in cities like Boston and Baltimore fell into disuse and disrepair, our harbor is still the major commercial harbor of our state. In these cities it was cheaper to build new port facilities away from congested urban centers and revitalize the historic harbor for tourism and residential developments. Publicly owned pier space in Honolulu Harbor might be attractive for developers interested in sowing profits, but it is not in the best interest of our state's economy and people to take up essential harbor space for inappropriate developments.
In 2005, Honolulu Harbor retained its position as the 14th-busiest container port in all of North America, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. Moreover, our harbor services only 1.2 million people but handles more containerized cargo than San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., and San Diego combined. Unlike these metropolises, more than 90 percent of what we consume cannot be transported by land or air, but rather, only through our harbors.
UNDENIABLY, our harbor and its surrounding areas could use a face lift. However, there are maritime-related improvements that can be both beautiful and useful -- beyond the grasp of the flashy residential developments that have taken hold of Honolulu.
Commercial harbors near other primary cities, like Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., have developed as world trade meccas. Their harbors not only house cargo, but also office complexes with adequate parking to accommodate businesses that operate on the waterfront. It is a natural fit for Hawaii's 63 steamship agencies, stevedoring companies, maritime insurance companies, equipment operators and U.S. Customs to have offices near one another to facilitate their interactions.
THESE improvements could have happened sooner had our government not shot our community in the foot and made it difficult for economics to take charge. For 20 years, Honolulu Harbor users have been given month-to-month revocable permits. No prudent business would make long-term improvements to a property for which they only had a month-to-month revocable permit -- and no prudent bank would even underwrite a loan. Our state should be working to alleviate these restrictions, rather than choking off our harbor lifeline.
This past April, the Ala Wai Canal became an open sewer because past city administrations ignored basic infrastructure to build ballparks. Our harbors are nearing a similar fate. This year, Hawaii Harbor Users Group estimated that our commercial harbors need $600 million in improvements. Some users are even amenable to paying higher rates for these improvements. Yet the government agencies that should be responsible for these improvements get their revenues spent elsewhere and are not allowed the mandate to properly develop and maintain these properties. These properties are then misused for glamour projects by autonomous agencies like the Hawaii Community Development Authority and Aloha Tower Development Authority. The missteps and arrogance of the HCDA are still fresh on the minds of our community in Kakaako.
HONOLULU Harbor is waterfront, but not all waterfronts can fulfill our collective need for commercial harbors. Our commercial harbor no longer displays the romantic bustle of seamen of yore, as described by Jack London. If the truth were told, modern commercial ports might seem boring, as humanity has been mechanized. This does not mean that "boring" should be cast aside for the drama of a high-rise or retail complex, especially when "boring" is our lifeline. We must remember our past and work to enrich our "sheltered cove."
State Sen. Gordon Trimble, a Republican, represents District 12 (Waikiki, Kakaako, downtown, Iwilei).