Private sector management to Kewalo
DID you know Honolulu's Kewalo Basin and the Ala Wai Boat Harbor, with just a mile between them, have a lot more in common than just being neighboring anchorages?
After Kewalo was created as a subsidiary for Honolulu Harbor in about 1920, a channel was dredged along the shoreline of what is now Ala Moana Park to begin the construction of the Ala Wai Canal.
At that time a small boat harbor was created at the canal's mouth in the process, but due to the offshore reefs, the only access to and from the sea for the boats moored there was through Kewalo Basin.
The channel between the two harbors was used for some 30 years until the Magic Island area of Ala Moana Park was filled in and the connecting channel was permanently blocked. Then, finally, a direct channel was cut through the reef for the boats in Ala Wai Harbor.
Another commonality the harbors have shared is of being operated by state bureaucracies. Originally, the Department of Transportation ran both, but in the early 1990s our Legislature determined recreational boat harbors more properly belonged under the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
From a distance both harbors also provide lovely views for anyone in the surrounding condos, hotels and restaurants, of course, and particularly at night, the view can be quite stunning.
However, from an up-close-and-personal vantage point Kewalo and Ala Wai both present a distinctly seedier vista of marinas well past their prime.
While professing to a lack of funds for maintenance or replacement, both the DOT and DLNR have condemned or removed thousands of feet of dock space in their two harbors. And nearly all of the slips that remain are marginal at best.
The two harbors also have in common an entrenched and vocal number of tenants who will loudly protest any change from the status quo.
In the Ala Wai a few years ago it was the threat of higher mooring fees and possible privatization that stirred these folks up. This in the face of the fact that the private sector is more successful by far in operating marinas and the fees were too little by half.
Now it's the Kewalo Basin tenants who are up in arms because the responsibility for that harbor will soon pass from DOT to the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which intends to establish private sector management along with new rules, regulations, charges and fees.
It seems a bit ironic that the Kewalo Basin tenants, as business owners themselves, would not appreciate the more business-like approach to harbor operations proposed by the HCDA. However, after several public meetings, the prevailing sentiment seems to be they would rather deal with the devil they know than one they don't.
What seems to be clear for both harbors is that if the state and/or the tenants are unable or unwilling to afford their maintenance, the private sector will surely come along to take over.