The city and state spent more than $9,000 to send four state and city employees to Florida last week to inspect a new $118,117 boat that the Hawaii Community Development Authority is buying for water safety in Kakaako’s Kewalo Basin.

The custom-built Boston Whaler may seem like a strange acquisition for a state agency that manages the redevelopment area. But spokeswoman Lindsey Doi says the idea that the HCDA’s only job is to approve high-rise condos “is a common misconception.”

“We’re a community builder,” Doi said, noting that the agency has invested in building and maintaining parks in Kakaako, including Waterfront Park, a former landfill.

The Hawaii Community Development Authority purchased a Boston Whaler from Florida with custom-made specifications to boost ocean safety at Kewalo Basin.
The Hawaii Community Development Authority purchased this Boston Whaler from Florida with custom-made specifications to boost ocean safety at Kewalo Basin. Courtesy of the Hawaii Community Development Authority

Park maintenance, like ocean safety, is normally a city function. The purchase of the boat is part of the agency’s vision to redevelop Kakaako Makai and help ensure ocean safety as more people move into the area and use the beaches.

“We master-plan communities and we facilitate the development of the communities, not just housing,” Doi said. “We definitely believe ocean safety is of great importance since (Kewalo Basin) is a large part of our community.”

Kakaako activist Michelle Matson agrees ocean safety is very important, but she questions the amount of taxpayer money spent on last week’s trip and wonders why HCDA, rather than the city, is buying a boat.

“Our position is the boat is going to save lives.” — Mark Rigg, city Department of Emergency Services

“I don’t know why there has to be such an extended public junket to go and see this boat,” she said. “It seems like this is purview of (the city’s) Ocean Safety. Ocean Safety should have title to the boat.”

The HCDA had planned to give the boat to the city’s Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services, but it found out that procurement rules prohibit such a gift.

That was news to former HCDA board member Brian Tamamoto, who thought the vessel was already here and functioning. He said he voted to buy the boat in 2014 in part because he thought it could be purchased more quickly by the HCDA than if the funding request had to go through the City Council budget process.

“If they had said that (procurement rules were a problem) from the very beginning I would have said that, ‘Wait a minute, we need to re-examine it,'” Tamamoto said.

Wayne Takamine, who leads the Kakaako Makai Community Planning Advisory Council, said at the time the boat was approved two years ago, the HCDA was considering allowing a wedding chapel and restaurant to be built on the ocean side of Kakaako.

But Takamine and other community members were concerned the proposal wasn’t in line with an existing plan that called for less commercial development and a lifeguard station.

In response to public concern about ocean safety, Tamamoto and the rest of the agency’s board voted to set aside $120,000 for a boat in August 2014. Howard Hughes Corp., which has a 45-year lease to manage Kewalo Basin, agreed to give $18,500 to the city to pay for a new dock for the boat and for jet skis.

The city completed the new lifeguard station last November, but the wedding chapel and restaurant plans have since been scrapped.

While lifeguards can park jet skis at the new station, ocean rescues requiring a boat currently necessitate towing a vessel from the Honolulu Fire Department’s Kapiolani or Mililani locations, said Mark Rigg, who leads the city Department of Emergency Services.

“This boat would be located right there in Kewalo Basin where Ocean Safety has a facility so the response times would be dramatically decreased,” he said.

Kewalo Basin Harbor in Kakaako.
Kewalo Basin Harbor in Kakaako. Flickr

Rigg said that after consulting with their attorneys, HCDA and city offiicials decided to establish a long-term lease. The details are still being nailed down, Doi said.

The vessel is expected to arrive in Hawaii in March. Last week, two HCDA officials and two city officials were sent to Florida to inspect it.

The HCDA spent $4,140 to send Doi, who is serving as acting asset manager in addition to her role as a spokeswoman, and Loretta Ho, asset management specialist, to Florida for six days, said HCDA Interim Executive Director Aedward Los Banos.

Their trip included physically inspecting and test-driving the boat, receiving training on its maintenance and observing the packing of the vessel shipping to Hawaii.

The two also visited several Florida development projects to see how other areas are implementing transit-oriented development, rail, bus operations and bike sharing.

The city paid $5,000 to send operations chief Kevin Allen and training captain Kurt Lager to inspect the boat, Rigg said. The money for the trip came out of a $50,000 gift to the city designated for ocean safety services, he said.

It’s the first time the city’s Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services has sent anyone to the mainland to inspect equipment, but Rigg said that it’s normal for the Department of Emergency Services to do so when making big purchases, such as ambulances, which may cost $200,000.

City officials also met with Florida lifeguards to learn more about their ocean safety policies and procedures, Rigg said.

“Our position is the boat is going to save lives,” he said.

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