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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 13, 2002

Board accepts suggestions of Ala Wai group

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The state land board voted yesterday to include all of the recommendations of a citizen advisory committee in criteria that will used to solicit a private developer and operator for the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor.

But the board gave potential developers an out from following all the guidelines.

"If their bid departs from the (committee's) recommendations, they must explain where it departs and why when they come back to us for final approval," said Tim Johns of the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

About 40 people attended the crowded meeting of the land board yesterday and 16 people testified on the Ala Wai Harbor Ad Hoc Committee's report. Most were concerned about turning over the 799-berth public harbor to a private operator, including a feared reduction in parking and loss of access to the beach and surf spots.

"I'm not supporting anything that denies access to the public," Johns said. Gilbert Coloma-Agaran, chairman of the land board, agreed.

Coloma-Agaran said the issue of privatization had been decided by the land board last year and the issue before the board was limited to accepting the report from the volunteer ad hoc committee.

The committee was appointed by the land board in December to study the Ala Wai harbor and includes representatives from nearby hotels and yacht clubs, boaters, residents, surfers and paddlers. The committee's role is advisory and did not address privatization.

The committee turned in its final report to the land board Thursday and made several suggestions on how to improve the harbor.

The recommendations include better repair, maintenance and management of the harbor along with an overall beautification of the area. The group envisions a pedestrian promenade, a retail area including shops and restaurants, surfboard racks, kayak and canoe storage and continued free parking for marina use and the public.

They also suggested creating a public park at the old heliport site and expanding the 28-slip Hawaii Yacht Club to 78 slips.

After an appraisal of the harbor and a report on the physical condition of the harbor are completed, bid documents seeking applicants for a long-term lease will be published in a request for proposals later this year.

Turning the harbor over to a private operator has been a sore point between various state officials and the people who use or live near the Ala Wai. The state says that plans to lease the land to private developers would allow for better upkeep of the boat harbor, which is falling into disrepair, and would maximize revenue for the state.

Opponents say the move could allow for overdevelopment, make slip fees for boaters prohibitive and end longtime parking accommodations for surfers and paddlers.

Surfer Tony Agao told the board the public had no idea that privatization of the Ala Wai harbor had been approved. He said many ocean users, including surfers and paddlers, are afraid that if the harbor is leased to a private company, the area would be fenced off and parking would become metered.

"I don't want to get steamrolled and sit on my 'okole while the land is taken away," Agao said.

Charles Brown, local representative for Westrec Marinas, one of the top marine-area development companies in the country, said the company has already begun making plans for the area.

Brown said Westrec agrees with 90 percent of the Ad Hoc Committee's suggestions, but does not want a city park created in the heliport area because it would like to run a lu'au at the site in cooperation with Hilton Hawaiian Village.

He said if Westrec wins the bid, the company has no plans to impede public access to the area.

Johns advised people opposed to privatization to talk to their elected representatives, who can create laws to change the situation. The land board is following guidelines from the Legislature in trying to generate more money from public facilities, he said.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.