Boaters file suit over Kewalo transfer
They seek to block a change in authority of the basin to HCDA
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After months of voicing protest, a group of charter boat operators at Kewalo Basin harbor have filed a lawsuit against the directors of two state agencies.
Their goal: to stop the management transfer of Kewalo from the state Department of Transportation to the Hawaii Community Development Authority.
Honolulu attorney Reid Nakamura filed the suit in Hawaii's First Circuit Court on Tuesday on behalf of Kewalo Ocean Activities, a nonprofit group made up of charter boat operators, as well as Kahala Catamarans Inc.
The suit challenges HCDA's jurisdiction over the harbor.
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A group of charter boat operators at Kewalo Basin harbor have filed suit against the directors of two state agencies as well as any government entities involved.
The suit, filed earlier this week in Hawaii's First Circuit Court, challenges the transfer of authority, operations and management of Kewalo from the Department of Transportation to the Hawaii Community Development Authority, along with the latter's proposed administrative rules.
HCDA anticipated it would take over management of the harbor in September.
It names Daniel Dinell, in his official capacity as executive director of HCDA, along with Barry Fukunaga, in his official capacity as director of the Department of Transportation, as defendants.
The lawsuit, filed by Honolulu attorney Reid A. Nakamura on behalf of Kewalo Ocean Activities and Kahala Catamarans Inc., is the result of a long-ensuing clash between boat operators and HCDA over their future at the harbor.
KOA, a nonprofit group formed a few months ago, is made up of about 25 charter boat operators at Kewalo harbor. Kahala Catamarans is a charter boat operator belonging to brothers Frank and Carl Mento, who have run their business at Kewalo for several years.
"I represent family corporations and small businesses that have relied on the harbor for their livelihood for many, many years, for decades," said Nakamura. "This is a suit to help preserve that means of livelihood."
The suit alleges that the transfer would be a violation of state law, which outlines that the transportation department is to establish, maintain and operate all transportation facilities in the state, including its harbors.
Although HCDA was allegedly granted title to Kewalo harbor in 1990 by the state Legislature as part of the state's plans to redevelop Kakaako, the suit says it was never authorized to replace the DOT in operating and managing Kewalo basin.
Instead, the Legislature in 1991 mandated that DOT operate and manage all commercial harbors in the state.
HCDA's proposed rules are in conflict with state statutes, says the suit, and the state agency is acting beyond its scope of authority.
The Legislature intended for HCDA to have land-based jurisdiction and authority, while the DOT should continue to have jurisdiction and management over commercial harbor activities, the suit said.
In 1996, the Legislature expanded DOT's authority by giving it the right to inspect and conduct enforcement action in any commercial harbor area.
The two parties have clashed over rent terms and new rules for at least a year, with little to no resolution in sight.
Members of KOA, which include longtime boat tour operators at Kewalo, have railed against rules proposed by HCDA for governing use of the harbor -- rules they said would displace them altogether.
HCDA changed its rules several times following public hearings, reducing common area maintenance fees, as well as lowering insurance requirements.
With growing discontent and distrust, KOA members began campaigning against HCDA as its new landlord.
KOA members favor transferring the harbor to the management of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.
At a public hearing last week -- the third held by HCDA within the last six months -- the boaters continued to testify their opposition to new rules, which include a two-tier mooring system, along with transfer fees and opening up the harbor to recreational users.
The DOT had planned to transfer management to A&B Properties, the winning bidder of the master plan development for 36.5 waterfront acres last July. When that plan was canceled amid public opposition, the division agreed to operate the basin until this July, when it would transfer it to HCDA, but that was pushed back to September.
With $5.5 million budgeted for repairs, HCDA has not moved forward because of its inability to reach a community consensus on proposed rules for the harbor.
HCDA board members must now decide whether to approve the final version of the rules, which are subject to the governor's approval. The board also is scheduled to present its new version of rules before the small business regulatory review board next week.
Dinell stepped down as director of HCDA on Friday to return to the private sector.
Teney Takahashi is serving as interim executive director while HCDA searches for a new executive director. Takahashi did not return calls from the Star-Bulletin by press time yesterday.