Governor seeks to privatize small boat harbors
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief
The Ala Wai and Ke'ehi small boat harbors may be among the first operations to be contracted out under a new state privatization law, Gov. Ben Cayetano said yesterday.
For the past several years, the Cayetano administration has proposed privatizing one or more of the state's small boat harbors, but has never been able to get the state Legislature to go along.
With the new law allowing for privatization, Cayetano said he's considering moving ahead with the idea.
"If we privatize the Ala Wai and Ke'ehi, we believe that we can generate enough revenue to upgrade the facilities in the other small boat harbors throughout the state," Cayetano said. "So, we're not talking about privatizing the entire system."
Cayetano also said the state may impose a floor on the wages that government contractors would have to offer their employees.
He said he is concerned that when the state privatizes services, government jobs with decent pay and benefits would be replaced by low-paid jobs with private companies.
"For example, clearly we could probably privatize janitorial service right now, because janitors in the private sector are probably paid the minimum wage," Cayetano said. "But that to me would be creating bad jobs or poor jobs at the expense of good jobs."
The state's small boat facilities are generally in need of repair. Ala Wai was built in 1951, and Ke'ehi in 1962. Maintenance of those harbors is financed mostly out of mooring fees and boat ramp permits.
A recent state auditor's report found the state charges considerably lower mooring fees than many comparable Mainland boating facilities, and the state hasn't had the money to make the kinds of harbor improvements it would like, said Gilbert Coloma-Agaran, chairman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
The state estimates it would cost about $12 million a year to maintain the facilities at an "acceptable level," but now spends only $1.3 million a year on repairs and maintenance.
Cayetano said mooring fees for small boats in the harbors need to be "dramatically" increased to raise the money necessary to maintain the harbors. He said the state is also interested in finding a firm that would want to manage and develop state lands at the harbors to raise more money.
Reaction to Cayetano's plan was mixed yesterday. Jeffry Hossellman, a Honolulu lawyer and boat owner who has used Ala Wai harbor for more than 20 years, said he hopes a private company can do a better job of maintaining the harbor.
"I think they realize that it would be better operated by experts rather than bureaucrats," he said.
Hossellman also said he has no quarrel with the plan to allow some commercial development on available harbor land.
But Richard Johnson, chairman of the Ala Wai Marina Board, said there are legal restrictions on the use of the Ala Wai lands that prohibit commercial projects there. Those lands are to be used only for recreational purposes, he said.
Johnson said he also would like to see a private company manage the day-to-day operations of the Ala Wai, but wants the state to limit how much the company can charge in mooring fees.
He said the state should pay for the necessary harbor improvements and maintenance.
Cayetano rejected that idea, arguing: "If you use it, then you should pay for it."
Advertiser Staff Writer Lynda Arakawa contributed to this report.