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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 29, 2006

State boating manager suddenly steps down

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state's top recreational boating official abruptly resigned last week amid continuing complaints about management problems at small-boat harbors across the state.

Richard Rice, state administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources boating division, resigned after complaints from numerous harbor users and a state lawmaker, officials said.

"Sometimes personnel changes are called for and it's an opportunity to get some new ideas," said state Rep. Anne Stevens, whose district includes the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, the source of numerous complaints about deteriorating conditions and a lack of maintenance.

Earlier this month, Rice announced that the state was planning to condemn three floating docks at the harbor and relocate more than 170 boats from the area. Now, officials say they are rethinking those plans and may try to repair the docks instead.

"Greatest news I've had in a long time," said longtime harbor resident Reg White.

Stevens, R-23rd (Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kaka'ako), said she complained to top advisers to Gov. Linda Lingle last week about the continuing problems at the Ala Wai harbor and elsewhere throughout the state.

"I think it just reached the tipping point," she said. "I give credit to the administration for recognizing that something needed to be done."

Rice could not be reached for comment yesterday, but state Land Board Chairman Peter Young said he was not forced out.

"The top boating administrator submitted his resignation. There are indications that the family is moving back to the Mainland," Young said.

Ed Underwood, a small-boat harbors official who has served on O'ahu and Maui, was named the new acting head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Ocean and Boating Recreation, Young said.

"There's a lot of legitimate complaints about the harbors," Underwood said yesterday. "We're going to look at some possible changes but our number one concern remains safety."

Young said funding to repair or replace the deteriorating B, C and D docks at Ala Wai remains a top priority.

"We're going to ask the Legislature again this year for $3 million for capital improvement projects there," he said. The Legislature has turned down similar requests for funding in past years, he said.

Stevens said Lingle also agreed to speed up a $1.65 million project to build a replacement F dock, which accommodates about 70 boats. The new project includes a new floating dock system with electrical and water utilities, an aluminum security gate and locker boxes.

Reach Mike Leidemann at mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.