Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, May 5, 2001

Privatization bill could
make a big splash

THREE weeks ago, in response to a query from the boaters' lobbying organization BOATS/HAWAII, I wrote of the absence of any marina privatization issues in Senate Bill 755.

You may remember, it was a proposal to allow the Department of Transportation and the Department of Lands and Natural Resources to enter into "capital advancement contracts" with private developers. As noted, the measure was about obtaining limited private funding for public construction projects.

As it turned out, both BOATS/HAWAII and I were looking at the wrong bill for language that might create some sort of marina privatization.

Senate Bill 1096, which the legislature passed last week, was the real vehicle for privatization, and it threatens to bring about the biggest change to recreational boating in Hawaii since the end of World War II.

If, or when Governor Cayetano signs it into law, SB 1096 will, among other things, "give state and county agencies the discretion to determine whether it is in the public's interest to allow a private contractor to provide necessary services."

There is clearly no mention of small boat harbor or marina operations in the bill.

Indeed, the bill states its first purpose as: "Addressing and resolving the uncertainty that the Hawaii Supreme Court's decision in Konno vs. County of Hawaii generated regarding government's ability to rely upon the private sector for services government needs or is required to provide."

The case Konno vs. County of Hawaii involved the use of a private contractor for a landfill operation.

Basically, the court did not find fault with privatization per se. But it did point out it was up to the legislature to make laws that allow for services to be provided by sources other than civil servants, who had customarily and historically provided them.

APPARENTLY, SB 1096 does just that, for it states: "Nothing, including ... applicable civil service law and customary or historical past practices, shall be deemed to prevent, restrict, diminish, condition, limit, or otherwise qualify the authority of the state or a county to enter into a contract with a private entity for the provision of services ..."

The legislature addressed the need for such a law by noting that "providing public sector management with a full complement of management tools to choose from ... namely, privatization, managed competition, and experimental modernization projects ... affords (it) a vast array of options to achieve its goal of government efficiency."

Assuming the bill does become law, I doubt it will be long before the DLNR's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation begins to use privatization as its new "management tool."

And, given DBOR's apparent inability to effectively manage its statewide "small boat harbor" system - as the state auditor has repeatedly pointed out - and the current dilapidated state of its marinas, it shouldn't come as any big surprise if or when it does.

The only question then would be whether there are any companies out there willing to take on the monumental task of bringing our marinas up to anything close to the average standards found in most mainland harbors.

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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