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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

Governor criticizes pier project's delays

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Gov. Linda Lingle said the state's long-stalled "Fishing Village" complex at Honolulu Harbor was a great idea that ended up rushed and badly bungled, but she is determined to straighten out the embarrassing fiasco.

"It has the potential to be a showcase for our local fishing industry," Lingle said. "But it also represents what can go wrong when mismanagement and government bureaucracy go unchecked."

Construction went forward despite testing that showed the site was contaminated with potentially explosive methane, so facilities remain vacant more than two years after they were built, she said.

State harbor officials said last year that the complex had cost $14.5 million and was expected to earn up to $755,000 in annual lease revenue. But those figures were revised yesterday to $17 million in construction costs and $930,000 in lost yearly income.

The state expects to spend up to $1.4 million more to remove contaminated soil and make final improvements so fish sellers and processors, and other maritime businesses, can use the facilities.

The 16.5-acre complex along Piers 36-38 includes a completed "multi-user building" with 32,000 square feet of commercial space. A catch unloading pier, restroom building, and parking lot are also finished.

"I can't stand the thought of a building that was built with tax money sitting idle, collecting no revenue," Lingle said.

The state would have earned more than $1 million in interest if it had simply banked the $17 million spent on the project until the site was ready, she said.

The site also includes eight parcels available to private companies that will build their own facilities. Two firms, United Fishing Agency and Pacific Ocean Producers, expect to sign leases soon.

The project began in 1997 under then-Gov. Ben Cayetano, and was expected to be finished by late 2000. The state now expects to solve the methane problem by October, and for the complex to open by April 2004.

Cayetano said the plan was to relocate Kaka'ako fishing businesses to a central location at the waterfront to free up land in Kaka'ako for an aquarium, science and technology center and related retail businesses.

The Fishing Village was to be similar to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market, and draw tourists and local residents, he said.

Cayetano said his administration was working to address the problems before Lingle took office, and had completed the remediation plan.

"The waterfront is a web of pipes, electrical lines and gas lines which were laid more than half a century ago and never accurately plotted on a map because in those days business did anything they wanted," he said.

Cayetano said his administration moved quickly to complete an important project based on the information available, and had not expected such delays.

"She is right on one thing: The Fishing Village is a great project and will add much to the ambiance of Honolulu's waterfront," he said. "So far, the only thing that has emerged from Lingle is criticism — and political rhetoric."

United Fishing Agency general manager Frank Goto said he was pleased that the project appeared to be finally nearing completion, and praised Lingle for her attention to the problems.

He said fish companies had been excited about the Fishing Village from the start. But the delays hurt some businesses, he said, because they had to invest more in older leased facilities that they had planned to vacate on moving day.

"A lot of the small-time operators can't afford to put in improvements for just a few years, the average lease," he said. "But I think this Fishing Village is going to do wonders for the fishing industry."

Officials said last year that the contamination wasn't discovered until construction was well under way, because there was no requirement to test the site for methane.

But Lingle said early tests had shown some amount of contamination, and should have immediately raised a red flag. It should not have surprised anyone that the problem was bad, since fuel storage tanks and underground pipes had been on the site for years, she said.

"This situation should never have happened," Lingle said. "The project should not have been allowed to go forward without a complete environmental assessment, and I feel sad that the taxpayers are going to now have to foot the bill."

State records show a 1999 site evaluation called for more testing because methane had been found in the vicinity, and that a 2000 methane survey found contamination at 77 locations.

Work on the multi-user building began in 2001, without modifications for methane mitigation, and the extent of the problem was discovered soon after.

The exact cause of the pollution may never be determined. State planning records show a long list of fuel, ship repair, trucking, and other industrial firms that have occupied different parts of the site.