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'Renaissance' bill hard for some to grasp


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POSTED: Sunday, February 15, 2009

Public testimony for and against House Bill 980 at last week's hearing by the House Committee on Water, Land, and Ocean Resources proved not only how expansive the bill is, but also how hard it is for some to grasp its innovation.

This bill, as I have explained in previous columns, establishes the funding the Department of Land and Natural Resources will need to create its “;recreational renaissance”; plan for a comprehensive and system-wide recreational modernization of all its assets.

The innovative part was finding such funding without depending on taxes in a time of drastically diminishing budgets. But the administration and DLNR Chairwoman Laura Thielen believe they have found an answer.

Their plan for repairing, replacing, or improving facilities within DLNR's 54 state parks, 20 small boat harbors, 25 boat ramps and landings, 275 miles of hiking trails, and the Forest Reserve System will rely on a $240 million bond issue, of which $200 million will be reimbursable.

To handle the debt service on those bonds, the bill proposes to allow the DLNR to enter into a number of public-private partnerships to develop various industrial parks and marinas. It also proposes creating additional revenue from new and increased user fees.

The opinions from the dozen or so recreational boaters who testified on HB 980 were divided nearly equally between support for and opposition to the bill. Often, those in favor offered at least one or more changes they felt were needed to improve the bill.

One stipulation voiced by boaters was that money in the Boating Special Fund should not be merged with any new Recreational Renaissance Fund that might be developed. Fees from boaters created the BSF, they argued, and it should not be used for improving hiking trails or camp grounds, for instance.

Another common concern was the potential increase in mooring fees because, it was argued, the state created the facilities with the intent of keeping boating “;affordable.”;

The DLNR might argue in rebuttal that affordable is a subjective term and that like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

It might also be argued that when any marina—whether in the Ala Wai Harbor or in Lahaina—has a five-year waiting list for potential slip enters while the boating program continues to be under funded, slip fee increases must be considered.

Still, the majority of the criticism from those who supported HB 980 was of a positive nature.

Those boaters in opposition to the bill, in contrast, tended to be in favor of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. That is, if they found any single provision untenable, they were opposed to the whole package.

In fact there was even written testimony against the bill that borrowed talking points from the testimony of a boater who was in favor of its passage. Go figure.

The DLNR will hold more informational meetings for those interested. The next one will run from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 20 at the Maui Waena Intermediate School cafeteria (95 Onehe'e Ave.) in Kahului. Other island meetings will follow.