View Point

By Bill Mossman
and Lynell Takeuchi

Friday, September 12, 1997

What’s really behind
move to privatize harbors?

Boaters fear privatization's increased costs
will force many to abandon their ships

Why are Governor Cayetano and Department of Land and Natural Resources chief Mike Wilson going at flank speed to privatize the state small-boat harbors? Is this something boaters want?

Or is this just a bureaucratic scheme to cut state expenses without asking for comments or giving consideration to the adverse impact it would have on the large segment of our population using harbors and boat ramps?

Boaters are skeptical about privatization. They are convinced that it will increase their fees by 300 percent or more. These increases probably would be attributed to costs for repairs and improvements to the harbors and ramps that the state should have made but didn't.

Also there are many extraneous amenities that are not required or desired by the vast majority of Hawaii boaters, but which are an integral part of the privatization package. Profit, of course, also becomes an additional cost.

Hawaii "boaters" include the owners, operators and crew of sailboats and power boats that are moored at state harbors, and trailer boats that utilize launch ramps and trailer parking areas.

Boating activities encompass commercial and recreational fishing of all types, water skiing and just plain sailing and motoring around. The harbor needs of these boaters are minimal:

Nearly all of the harbor tenants (in the water boats) merely want slips to park their boats safely and to have access to fresh water and electricity.

Trailer boats also want only the basic necessities: a safe place to launch and recover their boats; a parking area for trailers and wash-down facilities.

They are not interested in "private marina" amenities such as boat haul-out, repair and storage facilities; boating and fishing supply stores; marina restaurants and bars; clubhouse and marina-type membership facilities, programs and management. Hawaii boaters don't want to pay the higher fees associated with these amenities.

The basic requirements they desire already exist at most state harbor facilities. However, due to shameful neglect by the DLNR, substantial portions of these facilities are in serious disrepair.

This management mess is boldly addressed by Westree Marinas in its proposal to take over state harbors. The following was part of its presentation to state senators and House members on Feb. 27:

"The harbors currently suffer from inadequate physical designs, substandard conditions, inefficient operations and unresponsive management. These elements result in a suppressed recreational boating industry, limited boater choices and restricted access.

"Furthermore, we believe that if the current system continues, it will jeopardize boater safety, erode boater satisfaction, restrict access to the water and erode the entire recreational boating industry.

"All of this will have a negative financial impact on the boating community, resulting in the state going further in debt."

That is damning testimony against the DLNR by an organization that claims to be the top U.S. expert in marina management. What's more, Westree is the organization that DLNR is considering for privatization.

This could be additional motivation for Cayetano and Wilson to push for privatization. The state boating management appears to be so screwed up that the political liabilities associated with such malfeasance seem to cry out, "Abandon ship!"

But allowing the DLNR to pass off the problem would be wrong. It assumes that the present mediocre facilities and management can only be improved by allowing a private company to take over the entire program.

This would be a cop out. It is an attempt by the DLNR to escape the responsibility for causing the mess in the first place and, more important, for redirecting its own resources to restore public boating to the level that boaters deserve.

Providing public facilities and services for citizens to enjoy boating in the ocean is no different than providing public beaches, refuse collection, parks, roads, airports, etc. It has traditionally been the responsibility of our government to provide these facilities and services.

The following question naturally pops up: Is the greater public interest served by privatizing our small-boat harbors so that the DLNR can improve its budget posture by shifting the entire cost of the harbor operations, maintenance and improvements to the boaters themselves?

The answer is no! Privatization should be considered only where it does not injure the public being served by the function being privatized.

In this case the public equals boaters -- the sailboaters, power boaters, harbor tenants and trailer boaters. This large group (an estimated 50,000-plus people) will be forced to accept 300 percent or more fee increases due to privatization. Many will not be able to afford this drastic hike.

Ironically, these boaters are essentially the same groups of fishermen and other boaters who fought hard against the whale sanctuary and were turned away by Cayetano and Wilson.

The fact that their efforts were largely ignored, and their representatives treated shabbily, left them with a bad impression. To subject this same group to the obvious injustices of privatization would confirm that boaters are considered politically impotent and therefore can be manipulated freely.

Will the boaters stand still on this one? We will certainly find out if the DLNR continues to push for privatization instead of rolling up its sleeves and starting to correct the problems itself.

Bill Mossman of Kailua is a retired lieutenant colonel
in the Hawaii Air National Guard and a longtime boater.
Lynell Takeuchi is owner and operator of Kewalo Marine Services.
The opinions in View Point columns are the authors' and are not
necessarily shared by the Star-Bulletin.

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