Thursday, April 26, 2001

State says boating
facilities need major fix

The Land Department plans
public hearings to raise commercial
and recreational fees

By Bruce Dunford
Associated Press

The state's public safety is being threatened by mismanagement that has allowed Hawaii's boating facilities to deteriorate, the state auditor says.

"Many facilities need major repairs and face permanent closure if not addressed," said Auditor Marion Higa in a report released yesterday.

The criticism of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' management of the small-boat harbors is not new. Audits in 1993 and 1998 reported the same deficiencies.

In response, department Chairman Gilbert Coloma-Agaran pleaded poverty but said he plans a significant increase in slip rentals and commercial fees next year to provide funding to make improvements.

He also said the department is continuing its push for legislation to privatize Oahu's Ala Wai and Keehi harbors to generate income to support the other 19 small-boat harbors and other boating programs statewide.

Of 338 boating slips at the Keehi harbor, 64 are closed for safety and liability reasons, resulting in an annual loss of $100,000, Higa said.

Sections of the Waianae and Kailua-Kona harbors are also closed for safety and liability reasons, the audit found.

"Such problems have resulted partly from poor planning, an insufficient fee structure, funding programs from special funds instead of general funds and paying a disproportionate share of the department's enforcement costs," Higa said.

The department concurred in general with the auditor's recommendations but strongly disagreed that it has mismanaged and neglected the state's boating program.

"Despite any differences of opinion that may be reflected in our attached comments, we believe this report provides a solid base and positive direction for the improvement of our state boating facilities in a fiscally responsible manner," Coloma-Agaran said.

In the attachment to his response, the department said public hearings are planned for this summer to raise fees for both commercial and recreational users to "market value," the first increases since March 1994.

"We are well aware that the present fees for use of state boating facilities are well below the fees being charged at private marina facilities both here and on the mainland," the department said. "The department has determined that the status quo approach to revenue generation will no longer produce the level of revenue needed to address the deferred maintenance backlog."

Higa's report noted that the state's highest monthly mooring rate is $4.10 per foot at Ala Wai Harbor, compared to the private Ko Olina Marina in West Oahu, which charges $9 a foot.

While other private facilities charge as little as $2.18 per foot, they also require initiation and application fees, dues and food and beverage minimums," Higa said.

Another potential source of revenue for the state are the 750 parking stalls at Ala Wai Harbor now free to the general public.

The department said that when it attempted to establish a parking fee at Ala Wai, the Senate passed a resolution asking that it be kept free for surfers and beachgoers.

Higa's report acknowledged the department's efforts over the past several years to get legislation to privatize Ala Wai and Keehi harbors in order to support the state's other small-boat harbors, and said those efforts should continue.

The department agreed.

"Our review of successful private marina operations on the mainland indicates that on average, mooring and other harbor use fees contribute no more than 35 percent of total income from the operation," the department said. "The remaining 65 percent is derived from compatible, nonmaritime uses and services such as restaurants, specialty shops and other nonintrusive uses."

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