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

Private yacht basin isn't quite ready to fly

This much is clear: The state Board of Land and Natural Resources decided at the end of last year to privatize the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, and it hasn't changed its mind.

What's not clear is the shape that development will take.

The impetus for a change in management was pretty obvious: The state was doing a terrible job of running all of its small-boat harbors, as detailed in several stinging reports by state Auditor Marion Higa.

But in December, as it decided to take the harbor private, the land board heard an earful from the harbor's neighbors and users, who have expressed fears about privatization that range from a huge increase in slip fees, which would put it out of reach of many present users, to a loss of traditional parking and access for surfers, kayakers, fishermen and beach-goers.

Distrust still there

Saying it wanted to make sure all interested parties had a voice in the decision-making process, the board named a 12-member committee representing adjacent hotels and yacht clubs, boaters, residents, surfers and paddlers. The committee has completed its report on development guidelines for the yacht harbor, but the distrust hasn't subsided.

A field trip for the committee and land board members to see where proposed improvements would go was met by about 50 protesters, apparently alerted by one or more of the committee members.

Unhappily, they seemed more ready to confront than consort. While their suspicions may be justified, they didn't get anyone any closer to a sound solution.

This sort of dissidence isn't helpful in reaching consensus, but it is suggestive of how far the board has to go in convincing current users that its intentions are good and that its plans will work.

Some committee members even remain opposed to privatization.

For our part, we see no problem with privatization of all or part of the harbor, provided that it ensures that current uses are enhanced, not harmed.

And we have many questions about plans as to whether that would happen.

For instance, we're impressed with a proposal for a pedestrian promenade from the Hilton Hawaiian Village along the first row of marina slips past the boat yard to Ala Moana Beach Park.

Properly landscaped, this would fit with our hope for an oceanside greenbelt stretching from Diamond Head to Aloha Tower.

But it's difficult to see how the improvements outlined in the plan can occur without substantial loss of parking places. It's hard enough for boaters, paddlers and surfers to find parking as it is.

Must remain public facility

This much should be clear: The Ala Wai must remain a public facility, open to all and set aside for the recreational use of Hawai'i's residents and visitors.

It sounds as if the board and the committee still have some work to do in meeting those fundamental requirements.