Editorial: Fee hike justified to fix boat harbor
The Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, within Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, has identified $310 million in deferred maintenance at small boat harbors and boating facilities statewide.
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The Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, within Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, has identified $310 million in deferred maintenance at small boat harbors and boating facilities statewide. This latest tally is no surprise, given that the state has been criticized for decades for inadequate repair and upkeep.
As part of an effort to rectify the matter, the state is sensibly pursuing a public-private partnership for part of Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor. Situated near Waikiki area hotels and Ala Moana Center, the dilapidated 11-acre parcel of docks, slips and vacant land holds enormous potential to transform into a lively go-to site for residents and visitors.
Mixed-use redevelopment — restaurants and retail, and various other commerce and recreation magnets — could serve as a steady revenue-generator, tapped to help fund repairs and upgrades at the state’s 16 small-boat harbors, which were constructed in the 1950s and ’60s.
Another funding stream are fees for mooring and live-aboard services. Last week, a group of Ala Wai harbor renters staged a rally to protest a doubling in fees that’s slated to take effect in November. While complaints about lacking harbor services are valid, it’s hard to argue with the rationale for an increase.
The mooring fee was last adjusted about eight years ago. And the live-aboard fee — intended to offset the price tag of providing additional services such as increased use of utilities, showers and restrooms, security and other administrative costs — last increased in 1991.
Ala Wai is the largest small harbor, with about 700 berths. Its users are primarily recreational sailors and boaters, including 129 live-aboards, and commercial tenants. The state’s only other live-aboards are at Ke‘ehi Lagoon small-boat harbor, which has 35 slips for that purpose.
About six months ago, DOBOR reported progress at the Ala Wai in that all floating docks had been replaced, and work was underway to replace condemned piers. Moving forward, funding is needed to cover infrastructure — sewer, water and electrical — improvements. Given the demands of site maintenance, fee hikes seem overdue, actually.
Meanwhile, it’s encouraging that also moving forward is competitive bidding for a lease of up to 55 years to redevelop the run-down area. It includes harbor parking, public restrooms, a former fuel dock, a former boat repair site and submerged lands extending off the fuel dock and boat repair sites.
Some area residents are rightly opposing any plan that envisions high-rise condominiums or dense development that blocks views, diminishes the harbor’s boating mission or interferes with the public access to the shoreline area. The state should heed that input, and opt to build a low-rise project that helps revitalize the prime waterfront area.
Earlier this year, the state initiated solicitation of developer proposals — 11 years after making a similar attempt that failed amid much public criticism. In that case, Honey Bee USA Inc. — picked to lease and improve two parcels — failed to execute even the bare bones of a makeover.
This time around, the reasoning for establishing a public-private venture remains sound in that it could provide taxpayers with needed services without draining state coffers. If the agency’s current timeline holds, evaluation of proposals and state Land Board approval of a redevelopment plan could wrap up within the next few months.
On this front, the state agency, in tandem with the community, must aim to find a balance for Ala Wai’s future — redevelopment that’s true to Hawaii’s sense of place, and holds realistic potential to reap rental income that will pay for harbor care across the state.