STAR-BULLETIN / JANUARY
The state Hawaii Community Development Authority has proposed doubling current mooring rents at Kewalo Basin. It also wants a higher percentage of gross revenue of the tenants, steeper insurance requirements and parking charges, plus as-of-yet undetermined maintenance fees. Commercial boaters who moor there say they can't make a living at those rates. CLICK FOR LARGE
Kewalo tenants rail against fees
Fee increases intended to fund improvements at the harbor are to go into effect July 1
One by one, charter boat operators, commercial fishermen and other slip tenants at Kewalo Basin brought out their arguments at yesterday's public hearing.
The state Hawaii Community Development Authority's proposed doubling of mooring fees, plus maintenance fees, and new lease terms were called unconscionable, ridiculous and ill-conceived.
It would also put them out of business, they said.
HCDA, the state agency overseeing the redevelopment of Kakaako, will take over the operations of Kewalo Basin harbor on July 1, when proposed fee increases are to go into effect.
Kewalo boaters: Fees will sink us
Charter boat operators and fishermen at Kewalo basin are up in arms over proposed increases to their slip rents, along with a bevy of other fees imminent in July.
That's when the Hawaii Community Development Authority, a state agency overseeing redevelopment of Kakaako, takes over management of the harbor.
But HCDA says rents haven't been raised for more than 10 years, and the funds are needed to make badly needed repairs to the harbor.
Boat operators, most of them specializing in sport fishing, are organizing themselves against what they see as a motive to displace them from Kewalo basin.
Is the basin a place for high-end yachts or fishermen, they ask.
The agency proposed doubling current mooring rents, in addition to a higher percentage of gross revenue, steeper insurance requirements, parking charges plus as-of-yet undetermined maintenance fees.
In addition, leases can be revoked if businesses do not meet a minimum gross revenue requirement -- $200,000 for 6-passenger charter boats and $750,000 for larger cruise boats.
"We want to make sure Kewalo basin is safe, and that it prospers in terms of servicing the needs of the community," said HCDA's executive director Daniel Dinell. "Like everything in life, it's a question of tradeoffs."
The agency estimates the harbor needs about $14 million in overdue maintenance and repairs, though the state has granted only $5.5 million.
Rents have not been raised since 1996, according to Richard Kuitunen, HCDA's director of assets .
The ailing harbor is badly in need of repair, with some boat slips condemned and beams termite-ridden. Dinell said nearly one-third of the slips are vacant.
Some of the requirements were revised downward following a mid-February meeting with tenants.
But 25 boat operators, who've organized themselves as the Kewalo Boat Owners Association, said they're still too high, and unrealistic, even for the largest and most successful businesses at Kewalo.
HCDA is asking for "too much, too soon," said Greg Longnecker, owner of Honolulu Screamer, Xtreme Parasail and Diamond Head Parasail.
Longnecker said he recently invested significant capital into a new boat, but the higher rates could displace him.
"It's hard not to get emotional," said Longnecker. "I had a dream and built a new boat. If these new rules are adopted, my people will be out of work."
In its business plan, HCDA outlines the vision of a harbor that is also open to "pleasure craft," or personally-owned recreational boats.
But current tenants question the agency's motives.
"It's not a mega-yacht place," said charter boat operator Robert "Capt. Tiger" St. Romain.
Mike De Rego, owner of the 50-year-old Inter Island Sport Fishing dba Maggie Joe, said the new fees should be postponed until an audit is done, and a legislative review of HCDA as the agency to manage it.
Most operators would need to double or triple existing sales to meet minimum sales requirements.
"Even the most wild-eyed optimists among us realize this is unrealistic," he said.
Moreover, he feels that he's paid rent for decades with no improvements to the harbor.
"In effect HCDA wants us to pay a premium for a neglected, under-maintained facility that is home to many drug users and vandals," said De Rego.
HCDA has had jurisdiction over the 55-acre Kewalo Basin since 1990, although the Department of Transportation's Harbors Division continued to operate it.
The HCDA's now-dead plan to have a private developer take over the adjoining Kakaako Makai area called for a private operator to take over the harbor. After that plan fell apart last year, the Harbors Division decided to turn over operational authority to HCDA, which is seeking a private operator.
Dinell said the agency would examine its alternatives and continue meeting with tenants, but as of yesterday no further hearings had been scheduled.