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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2010

Agency's contributions ignored

By Capt. Ed Enos

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Aloha Tower Development Corp. has found its new "core purpose" in overseeing harbor modernization.

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Earlier this month, the state auditor released her latest report on the Aloha Tower Development Corp. The report is critical of the ATDC and its failure to achieve the waterfront development goals first envisioned by Gov. George Ariyoshi back in 1979.

While many would agree with the auditor on the historical failures of the ATDC over the past 30 years, the audit completely fails to fairly examine what the ATDC is accomplishing today.

The audit makes frequent references to original plans from 1979 as being "unworkable" and "financially flawed." A hotel, residential apartments, retail shops, office spaces and a large parking structure were envisioned as part of that plan.

Yet simultaneously, the audit uses this flawed plan as a way of measuring what it sees as the lack of success by the ATDC. The failure to build out the other components of the project, beyond the Aloha Tower Marketplace that exists today, is seen as a failure by the auditor. The report implies that the ATDC should have done a better job at finishing a bad idea.

The audit acknowledges that "use planned in 1994 may no longer be viable today." So why then is the ATDC held to account for not accomplishing something that even the auditor has recognized is no longer viable?

The audit states that the ATDC "has known since 1999 that its master plan is outdated, affecting its ability to accomplish its mission." The report then correctly recognizes that the events of Sept. 11 and resulting security issues have further complicated the viability of this project. Again, the report seizes on a failure to accomplish something in 1999 that it also recognizes would have been dramatically changed anyway in 2001.

For the record, the ATDC does have an updated strategic plan that accommodates the changing federal security issues, growing demands of the mari-time industry, and the ever-changing political and social climate spanning 30 years on this project.

The report alleges that the ATDC's "development expertise is limited, at best" and that the ATDC is not living up to its "core purpose." The audit recommends that developing the Aloha Tower waterfront be turned over to the Hawaii Community Development Authority and that harbor improvements be given back to the Department of Transportation-Harbors Division. And there are legislative efforts under way to dissolve the ATDC.

These conclusions are fundamentally wrong. Even the audit states that the HCDA is "not without controversy." The development of Honolulu Harbor presents technical challenges unique to marine transportation. The ATDC has clearly demonstrated its "expertise" by managing the Harbors Modernization Plan these past two years.

Historically, the Harbors Division has failed to maintain our statewide commercial ports, much less oversee multiple modernization projects. Currently, the maritime transportation industry has an excellent rapport with the division and the ATDC is doing a great job of facilitating harbors modernization projects that benefit the maritime industry.

With its new mission, to oversee the state's Harbor Modernization Plan, the ATDC has found its new "core purpose." The state auditor should know this, from the industry's point of view.

There are many good, dedicated people working at the Harbors Division. Their ability to meet the demands of the shipping industry in years past has been impeded by a continual change in leadership, which naturally occurs with each new administration.

This challenge has finally been met by allowing one entity, the ATDC, to have oversight of the many projects that will serve all of Hawai'i's residents into the future.

As deputy director for harbors, Mike Formby's presence is a positive force behind the success of numerous harbor projects. His maritime background has served our industry extremely well. But like many before him, his time with the Department of Transportation will soon come to an end.

Under the Lingle administration, with political support from many legislators who understand the maritime industry's needs, the ATDC is useful and productive. To abolish the ATDC now is precisely the wrong thing to do. This would only be another bad decision for a group that is actually doing something right.

Capt. Ed Enos of Waimea, Hawai'i has been employed in Hawai'i's maritime industry since 1977 and has been a harbor pilot for 17 years. He is a member of the Hawai'i Harbor Users Group and the state Harbors Modernization Group and he wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.