I am a recreational boater. Like many of my harbor neighbors we enjoy time on the water with family and friends. I have been dedicated to this lifestyle for more than 20 years. Now my lifestyle is being priced beyond my reach.

Like many boaters, I may have to sell my boat. For some it’s their home. One of my neighbors is a disabled Vietnam War vet who has lived on his boat for more than 30 years, and soon he will not be able to afford the fee increase of more than 130%.

For my 33-foot boat I pay $198 per month. With the new rate I will pay $455. If I were to live aboard, that would go to $765.

One boater with a 20-foot boat, will see his fee going from $117 to $469 (slip, power, and dock box). We are not all rich “yachties,” we are just regular local folks. And this is just one more instance of local people being pushed aside.

The state’s position seems to be “we undercharged for a long time, now we want to compensate by overcharging.” This strategy is going to force many boaters to sell or abandon their boats. Abandoned boats will cost the state by further loss of revenue and disposal costs.

Revenue woes are compounded by under utilized assets such as the unused lands in Keehi and the Ala Wai (former fuel dock and Ala Wai marine parcels) as well as slips left in disrepair.

We pay for our slip fees, parking, and other expenses that result in revenue for the harbors. These revenues go into the “General Fund” and an operating budget is then allocated to the individual harbors. Monies that go into the general fund are spread around to many programs that benefit the people of Hawaii. The budget is spent primarily on payroll and maintenance. The condition of the harbors speaks for the maintenance.

Ala Wai Harbor Waikiki Beach Hawaii Prince aerial 0316.

Some boaters at the Ala Wai Harbor worry increased slip fees will force them out.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The concern to many boaters is not a fee increase, but the huge fee increases and structure, in most cases more than 130%. This is exasperated by the idea that boaters will pay for the slip size or the vessel size, which ever is greater. To make the pill even more bitter is the fact that there is no assurance that the harbors will be better for it. An increase in fees does not mean a bigger budget or better management.

The state agents allowed these conditions to proliferate over the years and are now trying to play catch up at the expense of all boaters. Ed Underwood himself acknowledges this in his outline of the “PPP” plan. This plan would bring in private operators as partners that will operate more efficiently as a for profit business within the guidelines of the state.

Even if they can privatize as planned, the rates are controlled by the state. As a business owner, I question this model. The base rate in the Ala Wai and Keehi will be $13 per foot.

Focus On Solutions

As stated, this is in line with marinas elsewhere. As an example, Koolina rates for my 33-foot boat would be $651, this includes floating docks, gated parking, secured piers, 24-hour security, showers, laundry room, sundry store, BBQ areas, and fueling facilities all in a well-maintained grounds.

Incidentally, Koolina is about 50% occupied. In a state harbor, what are we getting for $13 per foot? Terrible bathrooms, expensive parking, and no security.

We are not all rich “yachties,” we are just regular local folks.

Certainly there are issues within the boating community. There are neglected vessels, illegal live-aboards, drug related activity, theft, and squatting. These are not unique to the harbors, but with no security and little enforcement the harbors are an attractive place for this type of activity. There are solutions to issues, take any of the private marinas as examples.

The big difference between private and state-run marinas is accountability. In the private sector systems and staff are evaluated and adjustments are made as needed. The state systems are not working and rather than evaluating and adjusting, the plan is simply a drastic rate increase and privatization.

There are solutions:

  • Apply a moderate and fair fee increase.
  • Fix the derelict piers and return them to generating revenue.
  • Establish HOA-style “house rules” and enforce them.
  • Increase the legal live-aboard counts and develop a community watch.
  • Develop the Ala Wai Marine parcel into dry boat storage with shops and a cafe.
  • Re-open the Ala Wai fuel dock and store. Develop un-used land in Keehi as a dry boat storage facility.
  • Establish the front row (fronting the Hawaii Prince Hotel) as commercial slips dedicated to a charter fleet.
  • Create an on-line payment system reducing dedicated labor hours.

Perhaps we need leadership with a bit more entrepreneurial spirit.

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