The simple answer is all around us
When Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings (R-Kailua), in his opening day speech to the Legislature last week, mentioned Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and noted its over-harvested trees caused the demise of its population, it made me smile.
I wasn't smiling at the loss of that Polynesian population, of course, but at the fact that I have often likened Rapa Nui's huge moai (stone statues), which always face inland, to many of those folks in Hawaii's Legislature who have so often turned their backs to the ocean around them and to its income producing potential.
Perhaps now that sustainability has become a buzzword in our islands, this will be the year our lawmakers will collectively turn around to face the sea and finally recognize they have been ignoring one of Hawaii's greatest sustainable assets -- recreational boating.
Historically, the state, in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, invested millions of dollars constructing numerous "small boat harbors" for recreational boaters and subsistence fishermen in the years following WWII. But those facilities were basic at best, and some have become waterfront slums at worst.
To its credit, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has slowly begun replacing some of its most derelict docks. But missing nearly completely are the types of shore-side businesses found around marinas from Maine to California that provide marine services, as well as to help defray marina maintenance costs.
It has been clearly documented that well-planned marinas offer a number of significant benefits to the local community that include business and job opportunities, and the generation of taxes.
"From increased tax revenues, to job creation, to added business at local restaurants, shops and attractions," one report noted, "there are few aspects of an economy that don't benefit from the presence of a successful marina."
The same report pointed out that in the U.S. studies indicate that, on average, marinas generate about one-third of a job per slip or berth. That would equate to the creation of some 230 jobs in an Ala Wai-sized marina if it were run "successfully."
It's obviously too early in this year's legislative session to know what, if any, bills for bond issues or public/private partnerships will be advanced for improving our state marinas. But it's certainly not too early to hope for such legislation.
Elsewhere in the world, governments such as Mexico and Costa Rica have recognized recreational boating's huge economic potential and have been expanding their boating infrastructures accordingly.
As some of Hawaii's traditional revenue sources and employers like sugarcane and pineapple production become less sustainable, and the visitor industry ebbs and flows with the world's economic currents, perhaps an invigorated recreational boating industry could fill in some gaps.