- Special Projects
UPDATED 12/3 10:30 a.m.
For some people, the last week on the job is an opportunity to reminisce, take a victory lap and smell the roses.
Not Laura Thielen.
The outgoing director of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources used her final turn at the pulpit to take a parting shot at legislators. She blamed years of underfunding for the “deplorable condition” of state recreational facilities, which she said “look so junk.”
Thielen, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, delivered a report to fellow members Wednesday afternoon. Prominently featured in large lettering was the fact that the state has “invested zero dollars ($0) in 14 of the past 20 years in repair or removal of safety hazards on the 600 miles of trails and forest access roads.”
She also said there is a $240 million backlog of repairs to parks, harbors and trails, yet zero dollars were allocated to fix any state parks facilities in the 2011 capital improvements budget.
(UPDATE: The report [pdf] is now available in its entirety.)
The opening chapter of the more than 40-page report is littered with photos featuring run-down state facilities and blunt, honest descriptions not typically used by cabinet-level government leaders when discussing their departments’ work on important projects.
The title of Part One of the report says that state recreational facilities are in “deplorable condition.” Thielen wrote that two decades of cuts to the department’s operating budget has “rendered DLNR unable to provide routine repair and maintenance.”
“Signs are dilapidated and don’t provide interpretive information about the rich history; a lot of minor repairs and maintenance work is obviously not being done; bathrooms are dirty, trails are rough and narrow; and in many cases no one from the State is there to help people or take care of the mess,” she said.
Thielen’s honesty was surely fueled in part by her battles with the Hawaii Legislature over funding as the state’s budget outlook has taken a downturn in recent years. Thielen’s DLNR took two different cracks at a proposed “recreational renaissance” that would have floated bonds and implemented fees to maintain some state resources. But the proposal didn’t fly with lawmakers. In the report, she lamented the “lack of State commitment” to maintaining natural resources.
Thielen’s parting shot wasn’t totally negative. The second half of the report includes a four-step plan to fix things, and a proposal to generate the revenue to get it done.
She suggested investing $50 million per year in capital improvement projects over the next five years to take care of the backlog and a restoration of the department’s budget to provide repair and maintenance.
On the revenue-generation front, Thielen suggested implementing user fees and culling funds from leased urban public lands.
After hearing her proposal, the land board took a step in that direction.
DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said the board approved a proposal [pdf] designating certain properties as “income-producing assets” — an accounting notation that would allow the DLNR to use funds generated from the lease of those parcels to maintain state facilities and resources.
Included with the proposal was a list of 88 different properties totaling 600 acres that bring in $3.5 million in lease revenue annually. As it stands, not all of the revenue stays in the department.
Governor-elect Neil Abercrombie has chosen Waianae harbormaster William Aila Jr. to be the next DLNR director. Aila, who attended Wednesday’s board meeting, must be confirmed by the Hawaii Senate.