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Ocean resources bill has pros, cons


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POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

Attending Hawaii's legislative hearings over the past 16 years has caused me to be less than optimistic about the eventual passage of any particular bill this early in the session.

However I'm making my plans now to get to the Capitol early after seeing the notice for the House Committee on Water, Land, and Ocean Resources' hearing on House Bill 980—among others—will be held tomorrow at 9 a.m.

HB 980 contains the legislation Gov. Linda Lingle and Department of Land and Natural Resources chairwoman Laura Thielen need to finance their plans for a “;recreational renaissance”; in Hawaii. So it's likely there will be some interesting testimony both for and against the bill.

In its first few paragraphs HB 980 points out that the Legislature and the administration recognize that “;extraordinary means must be employed to catch up on deferred maintenance on parks, forests and ocean recreation facilities,”; and that with a one-time substantial upgrade “;the state could go from being 'reactive' ... to 'proactive'.”;

Still, it is not enough to do a one-time upgrade, the bill emphasizes, but it is also necessary “;to put systems in place to ensure the facilities are maintained at a higher standard”; and kept at “;world-class levels.”;

The funding to accomplish this recreational renaissance, as I outlined in this column a couple of weeks ago, would come largely from a $240 million bond issue, of which $200 million will be reimbursable.

A major component for handling the debt service on those bonds appears to be the projected income from the development of the “;man-made, triangle-shaped island”; in Keehi Lagoon for recreational and light industrial purposes.

The language in HB 980 indicates the administration is also counting on income from utility charges and additional fee increases for boat slips that would be established by a state-licensed appraiser.

Increases may be in store for launching-ramp access, concessions and other commercial activities, as well, which could include “;limited”; commercial uses in the Ala Wai and Keehi boat harbors.

The bill will allow commercial vessels to use permits for up to 15 percent of the total berths in the Ala Wai harbor and 35 percent of the total berths in the Keehi harbor.

This could bring about a significant change as the current statutes only allow commercial Waikiki Beach catamarans to moor in those harbors, but they do not allow them to conduct business there.

In the past, in fact, both outrigger paddlers and sailing school administrators have fought any intrusion of commercial vessels into the Ala Wai harbor's narrow channels as a boating safety issue.

Most of SB 980, nevertheless, seems to be addressing the issues that have made Hawaii's squalid recreational boating facilities world renowned.

So by recognizing that “;visitors and residents alike use small boat harbors and launch ramps to participate in local, regional and international yacht races, fishing tournaments, canoe regattas, surfing and other water sports,”; perhaps its passage will usher in exactly the sort of renaissance that's needed here.