DLNR needs just a little green for its Recreational Renaissance


POSTED: Friday, April 10, 2009

The Legislature has given the Department of Land and Natural Resources the canoe to move its Recreational Renaissance plan forward, and DLNR has eager paddlers ready to start $240 million in capital improvements to parks, harbors and trails across the state. The only problem is that the House forgot to give DLNR the paddles. Without paddles, DLNR can't start fixing Hawaii's outdoor recreational spaces.

The Recreational Renaissance plan provides for a rebirth in the way we care for our natural and cultural resources, including Hawaii's parks, small boat harbors and hiking trails. As part of the plan, DLNR is prepared to implement $240 million in capital improvements to our parks, harbors and trails over the next five years, and adopt model repair and maintenance standards to better care for these places and facilities in the future.

These projects will improve comfort stations, parking, ocean access and interpretive programs, restore cultural and fragile resources in our parks and provide safe areas for residents and visitors to enjoy recreational activities in Hawaii's beautiful outdoors.

The capital improvements will be paid by nontaxpayer monies, including: commercial lease rents from state lands in urban areas; a small park entry fee for tourists only at eight high-visitor destination state parks (less than the entry fees currently used in all our national parks); and revenue from harbor businesses.

Capital improvements will be followed by routine repair and maintenance using the national park system's standards for parks and trails, and the California marina standards for harbors, boat launches and piers. All revenues generated in parks, trails and harbors will be used to maintain and repair parks, trails and harbors.

House majority members liked the Recreational Renaissance initiative so much that they adopted it as part of their House package. House Bill 980 sailed through the House and is now before the Senate for hearing. The House replaced Senate Bill 636 with language from House Bill 980 to enable the Recreational Renaissance initiative to move forward.

However, the House forgot one critical element that is needed to kick-start the entire initiative. DLNR needs a small amount of state bonds to begin the state park improvements that will leverage the new fees and revenues. Without that kick start, the plan won't work.

The bonds will support immediately bidding $30 million in projects across five islands in the first year and $20 million in the second year. This economic stimulus will benefit small businesses on five islands across the state and help DLNR compete for federal stimulus funds to supplement this state investment.

We're entering the second half of a session dominated by bleak economic news. The Recreational Renaissance plan is a bright light that will generate work, enhance the places we all play in, and keep Hawaii an attractive place for tourists to visit — at virtually no cost to the taxpayer.

Legislators, please give DLNR the paddles — the small amount of General Obligation Bonds to start work immediately, and Senate Bill 636 for the authorization — so we can start fixing up our outdoor recreational spaces this year.

Clark Hatch is president of the Diamond Head State Monument Foundation and the East Diamond Head Association.