One Single Change to Hawaii Harbor Statutes Could Transform the Harbor System

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hawaii Ocean News or its staff.

The DLNR under Suzanne Case, with the administrative support of DOBOR’s Ed Underwood, has hatched a plan to make the harbor system and boating in Hawaii even less appealing.  With the advent of huge fee increases planned, some as much as 1000%, and more boating restrictions on the way, those sailors, fishermen and recreational boaters on a tight budget will most likely be forced to abandon ship altogether and just go sit on the beach.

While the changes to this boating statute will bring even more unnecessary regulation and massive fee increases, Suzanne Case’s DLNR promises nothing in regards to much needed infrastructure upgrades.  The deplorable state of the harbors — a legacy from the DLNR’s previous chair, Laura Thielen — characterized by its almost nonexistent security and incredibly challenged bureaucratic paperwork process will remain unchanged.  

Meanwhile crime in the harbor system is completely out of control — one vessel owner recently reported having been broken into nine separate times over the past two months. Drug-fueled crime, especially, has left harbor tenants frightened and wondering what happened to DLNR enforcement, almost completely invisible.

In most First World locales around the globe,  harbors are places where ocean loving boat owners, and their families, congregate and launch their boating adventures.  Unfortunately, according to some major boating magazine editors with first-hand experience of Hawaii’s public marina environment, Hawaii’s harbor system does not actually qualify as ‘First World’.  Comments like “. . . is there such a thing as Fourth World? . . . ” abound, and, truth be told, Hawaii’s harbor system is among the worst on the planet.

So let’s talk solutions.   How can we pull ourselves out of this muck.  Just throwing money at this problem hasn’t helped up until now, and there is certainly nothing in the new version of Chapter 13-234 to indicate that anything will be different.  Better management would certainly win points, but there seems to be some resistance to that right now.  Let’s step back and take a look at a good starting point.

As alluded to above, one of the single biggest challenges facing the harbor system today is its population of drug users and drug traffickers, and the associated crime that this group brings to the harbor environment.  Drug addicts use boats as illegal liveaboards, meth labs, drug distribution centers and storage depots.  At least one boater at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor has converted his entire boat into one giant single-crop marijuana planter — for medicinal purposes, of course.   Very entertaining but not quite what public harbors are supposed to be about.

The current revision to Chapter 13-234 in no way addresses the real problems plaguing the state’s harbor system.  Not a small part of the proposal smacks of discrimination targeting middle and lower-income boaters, and there are multiple schemes that attempt to collect for services not rendered.  None of the document focuses on the state’s horrific harbor crime problems, infrastructure woes, ’80s technology paperwork logjam, or the enormous environmental issues that threaten the health and safety of not only harbor residents, but the throngs of tourists nearby.

So, the first realistic change that should be made to Chapter 13-234 might look something like this:

“From [this date] on, all harbors within the State of Hawaii harbor system shall be designated Drug Free Zones: the using, storing, trafficking or exchanging of illegal drug substances in any of our Drug Free Zones will carry maximum penalties for the first-time offender.  Repeat offenders will be sentenced under the new federal mandatory prison term guidelines.”

And the follow-up change to this document should sound something like:

“Any person wishing to be eligible for a slip assignment within Hawaii’s public harbor system must submit, in addition to proof of vessel insurance, a valid, recent proof from a recognized medical facility that the applicant is drug free.”

This later clause addresses harbor safety: it helps to assure that those boat owners who might be under the influence of illegal drugs are not operating their vessel out of a public harbor, and/or are in or around harbor piers where they could be a problem for legitimate users, or a danger to themselves where, for example, accidental falls into the deep water beside the piers could result in drowning.

These are two commonsense changes that could be made immediately, simultaneously demonstrating to the world that our current DLNR/DOBOR bureaucracies are not as disappointingly ineffective as one might construe them to be.

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Trudy Shamil
Trudy Shamil
6 years ago

The whole harbor management thing has reached crisis levels

6 years ago

My guess, the dlnr is on one big coffee break