Privatization of Small Boat Harbors…Citizens Beware

By: Trustee Rowena Akana, 1997

Source: Ka Wai Ola O OHA

During the 1997 legislative session, HB 1547 HD2 SD1 CD1, signed by the governor as Act 106, created a task force in the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to evaluate the feasibility of and to make recommendations on a community-based management pilot program for one or more small boat harbors. This bill originally established a three-year pilot program to convert one such harbor into an independent, privately managed marina in accord with an operating agreement with DLNR. Public reaction caused legislators to rewrite the bill into a vehicle which reviews the prudence of community-based management of small boat harbors. Were they trying to slip one by us?

The state’s small boat harbors are important assets constructed, maintained, and operated for the purposes of recreation, landing of fish and inter-island commerce. As centers of economic activity, they produce revenue. Currently, they are regulated by DLNR, and are subject to many rules. The original HB 1547 would have allowed an exemption to the rules.

Hoping for a consulting agreement with DLNR to manage small boat harbors, WestRec Marinas, a California marina management firm, lobbied the governor and Michael Wilson to effect legislation which would privatize small boat harbors. Fortunately, WestRec is subject to Chapters 76-77. This setback is probably temporary as the legislature is known to have made exceptions to civil service laws in the past, and may do so again if pursued by interested parties.

Makes me wonder what the real story is behind Act 160 and WestRec Marinas. This firm has been under scrutiny in California, and has defaulted on a $2.5 million mortgage in south Florida, two marinas in Washington and another in Maryland. I would question its credibility.

In Hawaii Fishing News, Rick Gaffney’s article, “Every User A Loser For Sale: Hawaii’s Small Boat Harbors,” points to the governor’s enthusiasm for privatization of small boat harbors and whether his enthusiasm is fueled by companies like WestRec. Money may be the bottom line in privatization, but the governor, Mike Wilson and the legislature need to be concerned about the taxpayers who use these facilities. The real question is what happens to local boaters and fishermen when small boat harbors are privatized? Will they be able to fish off the banks of the harbor?

Rick Gaffney asks, “Do you think akule fishing would be allowed in a privatized small-boat harbor? No Way!” I hope the governor, department heads and legislators will provide solid answers to many questions that have been unanswered or not asked. And what of the submerged lands in the harbors? Will the state look out for Hawaiian interest? If privatization occurs, then management controls everything.