Common sense vs. privatization at Kewalo Basin
IN THE JUNE 24 Star-Bulletin, Barry Fukunaga, director of the state Department of Transportation, and Theodore Liu, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, argued that privatization is necessary at Kewalo Basin.
There were several inaccuracies in their commentary. The inaccuracies are understandable because, I believe, Fukunaga and Liu are only minimally involved in the privatization plans for Kewalo. Authorship of the privatization plan seems more in the hands of the Hawaii Community Development Authority.
The privatization plan is being pushed forward with a false sense of urgency. There is no legal mandate or requirement for the rush. The deadlines are merely agreements between the Hawaii Community Development Authority and the DOT.
This false urgency needs to be stopped; HCDA might likely violate state constitutional and statutory provisions by proceeding. The attorney general needs to provide an opinion on the legal issues involved. HCDA might be overreaching its management jurisdiction and its agency powers. These serious issues should be resolved before any plan is implemented.
PERHAPS more wisely, HCDA's privatization plan should be deferred until the next legislative session. The Legislature, and its public process, is clearly the right place to decide the future of this valuable public area.
Fukunaga and Liu wrote, "HCDA will follow a successful model in using private sector expertise to manage the harbor." Well, there is no public harbor in Hawaii currently managed by a private corporation. There are, however, private harbors built by private dollars and managed by private corporations.
What is likely happening amid all the confusion, misdirection and false urgency is, once again, a privatization test case. Previous privatization plans were easily defeated by the public as recognizable threats to our limited public shorelines and our unique Hawaii way of life.
Kewalo Basin is no different. Kewalo Basin is the only small commercial harbor in metro Honolulu. As such, it is a unique resource for our fishing fleet and tourist ocean recreation. Kewalo park and shorelines are also a vital and vibrant resource used daily by residents for picnics, surfing, fishing and other ocean and family fun.
If HCDA proceeds with privatizing Kewalo Basin, there probably will be a slow and systematic removal of the existing harbor businesses. Kewalo likely will become a California-style private marina for the "mega-wealthy" yachting community. One more authentic, charming and unique Hawaiian legacy will pass into antiquity.
And it is not too big a leap to surmise, that all the valuable public lands surrounding Kewalo will be developed in a theme consistent with a private marina. In this theme, exclusivity, privacy and security will take precedence over public access.
Yes, Kewalo repairs have been neglected. Who is the landlord that allowed this neglect? Clearly that landlord is the state. The facts are that Kewalo Basin operates at a profit. Check the DOT Web site and financial records for proof. There has been more than enough money from Kewalo revenues all along to maintain and repair this harbor.
Fukunaga and Liu infer that the Kewalo users are the impediment to repairing Kewalo Basin. Nothing could be further from the truth, or a better misdirection of the public's attention. HCDA and the state are accountable for the neglect of Kewalo Basin.
THE REAL issue is not the fee structure at Kewalo. The real issue is privatization of public harbors and public lands.
With all the confusion HCDA, DOT and DBEDT have created, it is time for the application of some good common sense.
There is no justifiable reason to rush this transfer plan forward. Public land utilization deserves well-conceived public planning, not rushed private interest deadlines.
HCDA has neither the expertise nor the resources to manage a harbor. HCDA's multiple failed attempts to write workable harbor rules clearly demonstrate this lack of expertise.
The state has two existing public agencies with expertise and resources to operate harbors; we do not need a third.
The Legislature, next session, should determine through the public process the correct state agency to manage Kewalo Harbor and the surrounding public lands.
Frank Mento is vice president of Kahala Catamarans and a member of Kewalo Ocean Activities, an organization of harbor small businesses formed to provide a cohesive voice in dealing with HCDA's privatization plans at Kewalo Basin.