FL MORRIS / FLMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Charter boat operators and fisherman who use the Kewalo Basin object to new rules and higher fees proposed by the state Hawaii Community Development Authority, expected to take over management in September. Above, protesters on Tuesday at the harbor. CLICK FOR LARGE
Kewalo Basin public meeting does little to quiet opposition
A group has formed to protest a management change and higher fees
CHARTER BOAT operators and fishermen opposed to the Hawaii Community Development Authority's planned changes and fee hikes at Kewalo Basin have linked up with some of the same activists who thwarted a previous HCDA-backed project at nearby Kakaako Makai.
HCDA says it isn't trying to drive the boaters out with its changes, but rather trying to shore up a harbor badly in need of repairs.
HCDA WELCOMES PUBLIC COMMENT
» HCDA is receiving public comments regarding Kewalo Basin until June 22, 2007.
» Comments may be submitted via the HCDA Web site at www.hcdaweb.org (click on Kewalo Basin, then Contact Information) or by mail to: 677 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 1001, Honolulu, HI 96813.
The public can also call HCDA at 587-2870.
A public meeting held Tuesday has done little to quell anger and opposition to a state agency poised to take over the management of Kewalo Basin.
The state Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees the redevelopment of Kakaako, expects to take over management of the basin on September 1.
But dozens of charter boat operators and fishermen who have used the basin for years object to the new rules and higher fees proposed by HCDA once it takes over management.
HCDA will draft and approve the rules, though they are subject to the governor's approval. The agency will need to hold a public hearing before it can approve the new rules, with 30 days advance notice.
But the boaters -- who have organized themselves as Kewalo Ocean Activities, or KOA -- are waging a campaign against HCDA, saying the agency does not have the experience or ability to manage Kewalo Basin.
KOA has allied itself with other activist groups, Save Our Surf and Friends of Kewalo Basin Park Association, who earlier protested and stopped the HCDA plan to sell state lands in Kakaako Makai to a private developer for a mixed-use complex that would have included luxury condominiums.
KOA is selling T-shirts with the slogan "Public Lands in Public Hands," and has its own Web site, www.savekewalo.com.
KOA spokesman Frank Mento said: "We'll take the matter up the chain of command."
Sign-waving protesters raised a hue and cry an hour before the Tuesday public meeting, criticizing even the its format, run by a professional facilitator.
The ruckus continued inside the conference room at Ward Warehouse, when the boaters went forward, one by one, to voice their opposition for more than two hours on record.
FL MORRIS / FLMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Protesters of the Kewalo Basin's planned new ownership are unhappy about proposed fee increases and new rules. Above, the fishing charter boat Maggie Joe headed for its slip past commercial longline boats moored in the basin on Tuesday. CLICK FOR LARGE
"HCDA has no business running these public lands," said Frank Mento, a spokesman for KOA. "We have two agencies that run the harbors, so why do we need a third?"
Mento said he prefers that the management remain either under the Department of Transportation or the Department of Land and Natural Resource's division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.
HCDA is seeking a private contractor to manage the basin.
HCDA has owned the land since 1990, when the state Legislature agreed it should integrate Kewalo Basin into its overall plans for Kakaako. But the state Department of Transportation has managed the basin since then.
Originally, DOT had planned to transfer management of the basin to HCDA on July 1, but has since agreed to delay the shift until September.
HCDA, meanwhile, says the harbor is badly in need of repairs and is not being used to its full potential.
"Our vision is very much aligned with the boaters, which is to improve Kewalo Basin and turn this into the jewel it can be," said HCDA's executive director Daniel Dinell. "It's a public facility today and will be a public facility tomorrow. The fishing fleet and the commercial charter operators are an integral part of the present-day Kewalo Basin as well as the future Kewalo Basin."
He added: "We have a responsibility to the public at large to properly manage and protect this public asset."
But Mike DeRego, operator of Maggie Joe Sportfishing, said the boaters seem to be bearing the brunt of the financial burden for the neglected harbor.
"They've collected fees for umpteen years," said DeRego. "That money should have been put into the harbor."
Many of the boaters say they fear the new rules and higher fees will push them from the harbor -- and demolish their livelihoods, some of which have been passed down several generations. They say the quaint charm and character of a harbor run by small operators is also in danger of disappearing.
The opponents say HCDA is trying to make way for a "wealthy megayacht society."
In addition, the boaters say they prefer to stick with a permitting system for the basin, which gives them more rights than a straight lease, as proposed by HCDA in its new rules.
"That permit gives our businesses strength," said DeRego. "It allows us to survive, and gives us some very important rights to do business there. When we get a lease, we have no rights."
Dinell said HCDA was willing to consider it. "There's no reason we can't do permits instead of leases," he said.
Some changes to the proposed rules have resulted from past meetings with the boat tenants, according to Dinell. Among them are: Mooring fees that would be only 25 percent higher for current tenants -- instead of double, as planned earlier this year -- and a reduction in the planned minimum sales and insurance coverage limit requirements.
Despite the contention, both parties agreed that they would welcome further dialogue.
"I believe we still have much of the same issues," said Mento. "We'd be happy to go back and discuss these issues."