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Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, March 18, 2000

Harbor bill is
dead in water and
status remains quo

FOR some it is a time for rejoicing, and for others, a time to go back to the drawing board.

The latest legislative attempt to allow the Board of Land and Natural Resources to lease the Ala Wai and Keehi small boat harbors to private operators recently died in committee.

The authorizing bill would have allowed the board an alternative means of redeveloping and revitalizing these facilities, without cost to the state.

It was needed, the board said, because existing state resources are insufficient to meet the projected costs of repair and construction projects.

With the bill's failure, there would seem to be little doubt that the board will be looking again at the feasibility of other options, such as raising boat slip rentals to generate the needed revenues.

Rejoicing, for the moment, are some of the boat owners who have slips in the two marinas and who testified against the prospect of private management. The joy of continuing to pay possibly the cheapest mooring fees in the U.S. is surely understandable.

Perhaps less understandable is the rejoicing likely to come from the office of state Rep. Galen Fox.

DURING the legislative hearings on the privatization bill, Fox actively campaigned against its passage while simultaneously acknowledging the harbor system to be mismanaged, neglected and underfinanced.

Can he possibly believe that the same public sector management that, over several decades, has produced the present shoddy conditions can somehow reverse itself and create marinas akin to the private sector's latest world-class development at Ko Olina?

After visiting scores of marinas from San Francisco to Mexico, I have seen how thriving marine-oriented communities are nearly always established through a partnership between public tideland ownership and private business management.

Such agreements provide government entities the task of creating and maintaining public water ways while allowing private enterprise the opportunity to provide amenities desired by the public.

And, unlike Hawaii's government-run marinas, this approach provides the state with lease income as well as sales tax revenues.

ANOTHER person I imagine rejoicing over the bill's demise is Harbor Agent William Aila, who, as a private citizen, quite bravely testified in opposition to the bill in front of his Boating Division boss, Howard Gehring.

Aila has been a longtime advocate of the status quo when it comes to Hawaii's state-run small boat harbors and, as an employee charged with overseeing one of them, it is surely understandable. Few things are worse than a threat to job security.

But when Aila testified that most boaters he knew would "rather have a Chevy than a Cadillac," as he compared state-of-the-art marinas with the Hawaii state variety, I couldn't help wonder why boaters shouldn't have a choice. After all, might not a Cadillac marina be more appropriate for Waikiki than a Chevy?

For the moment, the privatization issue is dead. But it's my guess that it will keep jumping back from the grave until legislators have enough facts to allow them to finally support the measure.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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