Upcoming Boater Fee Increases: Boater Feedback

Upcoming Boater Fee Increases

Boater Feedback

In September of 2017, boaters were notified that the DLNR had begun the process of formulating a new slate of fee increases.   Time is now rapidly approaching when the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR - board members, including Suzanne Case) will be deliberating on the final draft version of the fee increases reflected in Chapter 13-234.  From there, the recommended final version will go to the Governor's office for a public hearing approval date.  The Governor's approval of a hearing date could take place anywhere from one to four months after his having received the document.

We reached out to the DLNR about notifying the boater public about both the BLNR hearing and official public hearing dates and was told that the BLNR hearing would be held on April 13th, 2018 . . . and then May 11th, 2018 . . .  and then May 16th, 2018.   As of this writing we've seen no firm date yet for the BLNR hearing on this issue, but assume that it will take place sometime in the month of May, 2018.

Important note: the board members DO accept written testimony from the public at this stage of the process.   Write to them at:  ATTENTION: Suzanne D. Case, Chair, Kalanimoku Building, 1151 Punchbowl St., Honolulu, HI 96813.   Or send them an email at dlnr@hawaii.gov ATTENTION: Suzanne D. Case, Chair.  If you are sending an email, it might be a good idea to ask for a confirmation of delivery (PLEASE CONFIRM DELIVERY), and it wouldn't hurt to note that the email content was URGENT.

Since the subject of fee increases was first made known to the public,  the Hawaii Ocean News staff has had the opportunity to talk to numerous boaters in various harbors about their feelings regarding the fee increases.  The results of this informal survey were educational. We share this with you below.  Because there are many line items in Chapter 13-234 that are affected by fee increases, we broke the feedback down by line item.


§13-234-10 Electricity fee.  The item of most interest, by far, was the proposal that would hike electric fees by some 1000%.  So, current fees:  $5.75/mo. for non-live aboards, and $11/mo. for live aboards.  New fee proposal: $50/mo. for non-live aboards, and $125/mo. for live aboards -- this is whether or not you actually use the electricity at your dock, or use far smaller amounts than what is represented by this rate proposal.

Boater feedback:  most agreed that the harbor should be in a position to pay its electric bill.  Comments similar to, "The harbor can't be expected to be in the hole for electrical usage . . . " were fairly common.   Comments varied widely about how they would or should accomplish this.  Almost all boaters felt that they should be charged fairly for the electricity that they actually use, and that the harbor should not place itself in a position that they actually profit from a law that forces tenants to pay for electricity that they don't actually use.  One boater tendered this example: "It's as if you left the island for a month; you shut all of your electrical appliances down before leaving and when you returned home you find a HECO bill waiting for you for $125."   Or $50.

Ed Underwood has told us that it's too expensive to meter slips individually and so bulk charging was the only way to recover costs.  The problem with this is that electricity is a consumable product that is typically charged by amount used -- or 'usage'.  What this means is that those in the harbor who are using tiny quantities of electricity over the course of a month, or not using any at all, will be subsidizing those individuals with air conditioners and other major appliances.  Everyone we spoke to thought this was unfair and some suggested that it might even be a legal issue.

Live aboards that we spoke to had various takes on this subject.  Generally, live aboards on larger boats with multiple family members felt that the fee was okay.  But those live aboards who  were single and on smaller boats said, generally, that they " . . . couldn't use $125 worth of electricity over a period of [multiple months] . . . ".

Some boaters noted that, under the new proposal, smaller vessels paying the same rates as much larger vessels were doing nothing more than subsidizing the latter's much greater demand for electrical power.

A few boaters wanted to know if there was a provision in Chapter 13-234-10 that exempted vessels that were completely off the grid, using alternative energy sources to supply all of their electrical needs (in compliance with Hawaii's Green Energy Initiative).   There is none at this time.

Some boaters suggested that the harbor flag boats with air conditioners and shore-powered refrigerators and charge them accordingly (based on an estimated usage), and not raising rates for those who obviously are not using much electricity.

Here's our observation: On at least two occasions, once in 1974 when planning the new floating piers for the Ala Wai Small Boat harbor, and again in 2008, yet  another opportunity to rethink floating pier design, the State of Hawaii consciously chose to ignore individual pier metering for electrical usage -- despite 21st century technologies -- and build piers without electrical usage metering.  Reasonable flat rates were instituted and, because they were reasonable rates, boaters did not complain.  Remarkably, via some sort of 2018 epiphany -- 18 years into the 21st century --  the DLNR suddenly  realizes that the electrical fees that it has been collecting all this time do not add up to enough to pay HECO's electrical bill.  Having whiffed the most obvious solution, that of metering -- not once, but twice -- the next most obvious solution is to just charge the heck out of everyone, regardless of whether they use any electricity or not -- whether the vessel is a 20' sailboat with a single user or a 50' powerboat with a family of four.  Again, this is the stuff of expensive lawsuits and should be assiduously avoided.

Summary, Electrical Fee Increases:   

  1.  Most boaters felt that the harbor system had to find a way to generate revenue to pay its monthly electric bill.
  2.  Most boaters felt that it was unfair to be charged for electricity that they didn't actually use.
  3.  Some boaters wanted to see a Green Energy exemption clause in Chapter 13-234, consistent with Hawaii's Green Energy Initiative.
  4.  Some boaters wanted to see a system in place that flagged boats that had major appliances, charging these on an estimated usage     basis, while leaving the rate unchanged for those obviously using little electricity.


§13-234-3 [State Harbor] Mooring rates. This was, of course, a hot topic around harbors. The feedback centered around three main areas:

  1. The fact that many boaters had just finished paying off an increase. 
  2. Boaters who had been in the harbor since before 2010 now getting walloped with a somewhere around 100% increase in mooring fees.
  3. Lack of any indication that the revenue from the fee increases would result in any improvement to the state small boat harbor infrastructure.
  4. Vessels smaller in length than their piers would be on the receiving end of a double whammy: these boat owners will be required to pay for the entire pier length (rather than smaller boat length) on top of the hefty increase in mooring fees.  In this new scenario, small boat owners would not only find themselves, ironically, subsidizing  larger boat owners, but would also find themselves questioning whether they could even afford to keep a small boat in a public harbor.

Some boaters who had been grandfathered in at older rates before the 2011 increases were now asking why the DLNR has suddenly decided to renege on the grandfather exception and include them in the mooring fee increase.  Some suggested that with that much of an increase, plus the proposed cost of electricity, together with the deteriorating state of our harbors in general, would be incentive enough for them to get out of boating altogether.

Boaters here after 2010 mainly questioned why there was this increase so close on the heals of the last one, when previously the state had been more judicious about spacing out increases.

Owners of vessels that were smaller than their pier length had plenty to say about the fact that they were now being charged for the dock length rather than the boat length.  Some said, in essence, "this seems to discriminate against the small boat owner . . . ".   And indeed it certainly appears that way in the document's present form.  Not a few of these smaller boat owners talked about leaving the harbor system completely, as a necessity.

Some boaters we spoke to talked to us about what they thought the state's rationale was for another increase.  Some thought they were trying to match similar marina rates on the mainland.  Some quickly pointed out that in its deteriorating state, Hawaii's harbors and up-to-date mainland harbors were not an apples-for-apples comparison.

Here's our observation: In this new twist on harbor fees we find that some boaters would now be liable for the cost of their pier length rather than their vessel length.   Essentially, boaters whose vessels are shorter than the length of their piers will be charged for the pier length.  Based on the harbor layout design of the, for example, Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, a 20' A category vessel could conceivably expect to pay the fee normally charged a 28' vessel.   In some categories, like C, for example, a 35' vessel could expect to pay the same as a 40' vessel.  The disparity in boat length vs. pier length is a function of harbor design and layout plus slip allocation by harbor agents, rather than the fault of individual boaters who would be penalized, through no fault of their own,  for not having a vessel whose length matches or exceeds their pier length.  This is the stuff of expensive lawsuits and should be assiduously avoided by the state.

Summary, Mooring Fee Increases:   

  1.  Boaters grandfathered in at lower rates now questioning why the DLNR suddenly reneged leaving them with a 100% increase liability.
  2.  Boaters in the harbor system after 2010 asking why the increase so soon after having been charged recent previous increase.
  3.  Being charged for the dock length rather than boat length rubbed most small boat owners the wrong way, consensus being that this   kind of rule-making results in discriminatory practice.
  4.  Some boaters questioned if the revenue from the increase would be used to upgrade our harbors; other insinuated that if the   increase was supposed to reflect an apples-for-apples fee structure with mainland facilities, that this expectation might be   misplaced given the current condition of our state harbors.
  5. Boat owners with vessels smaller in length than their pier length felt that they were being unfairly targeted by a double whammy increase in fees and said that this proposal would drive them from the public harbor system.


§13-234-2 Payment and delinquency (slip payments by the 4th of each month).   The feedback that we received on this item had mostly to do with making payments in a timely fashion by those on fixed incomes, receiving pension checks on certain dates.  One fisherman told us he got his pension check on the 15th, so that's when he has been paying his harbor bill each month.   "If you're required to pay on the fourth, this will be humbug for me since I don't have money until the 15th."  Indeed, this proposal inadvertently puts our uncles and aunties in a more difficult situation with regards to not missing the slip fee payment deadline and incurring additional penalty fees. 

Summary, Payment and delinquency deadline changes:   

  1.  Primarily, boaters who are on fixed incomes claim that this will impose an additional burden on them to come up with slip fees on   or before the 4th of each month. 


§13-234-11 Shower fee (new $15/mo. fee just to have a shower/bathroom key-card)The feedback on this issue centered on the term "usage." One boater, for example, stated that he and his family have a Lectra/San system and a shower on their boat and don't usually use the bathroom facilities, but keep a male and female card-key handy for guests.  

Another boater made the suggestion that the harbor (referring to the Ala Wai) should use the digital tracking built into its existing card-key system to determine how people will be charged for card-key entry usage.

Summary, New Shower Fee feedback:   

  1. The primary feedback on this issue centered on what constitutes "usage'. Several of the boaters that we spoke with do not use the bathrooms in the harbor system but have card-keys put aside for guests.  Deposits for each card-key is $30 and is held until the card-key is returned.
  2. One suggestion was that, at very least, the Ala Wai harbor should use existing digital monitoring resources (already in place and working) to determine who in fact actually uses the card-keyed bathrooms, and charge accordingly.


§13-234-4 Offshore Mooring rates; mooring and anchoring away from harbor environments (representing an increase in fees of from 33% to 500% for anchoring in Hawaiian waters using your own tackle)

The principal feedback that we've gotten on this line item mainly has to do with the complete lack of facilities -- even the most fundamental facilities -- and security for those anchoring in Hawaiian waters.  There were anecdotes relating to stolen dinghies, lack of reasonably accessible potable water, and safe dinghy landings, leaving several to ask why they were charging fees at all.  In fact, there was at least one rather animated discussion about why Hawaii boaters are being charged to anchor in Hawaiian waters when not only are there no facilities for these boaters, but anchoring in the waters of other states around the country, and for that matter, around the world, was completely free, or nearly so. 

Some examples of completely free offshore anchoring around the country and world: nearly the entire Chesapeake Bay, all cruising in the northwest including the spectacular Juan de Fuca cruising grounds, almost anywhere in the Great Lakes, most cruising around the Florida Peninsula, all of the impressive Whitsundays in Queensland (free for residents); even Vavau, Tonga's world class cruising grounds cost US$30 to cruise unlimited anywhere in the group (non-residents only; residents free). The list is long, and almost all of these cruising grounds allow living aboard without fee.  Who are we to charge people for anchoring here? Our cruising grounds are difficult, at best, and only for experienced mariners; there are no serious facilities to speak of at any of our anchorages; theft and other security issues are problematic in many areas, like Kaneohe Bay. Unfortunately for those of us who take pride in our beautiful state, heaping fees on top of this unattractive cruising scenario makes Hawaii nothing more than a laughing stock among serious mariners worldwide.

Summary, Offshore Mooring Rates feedback:   

  1. The primary feedback on this issue centered on the almost complete lack of facilities for boaters wanting to anchor in Hawaiian waters and substantial security issues where one has typically been at risk of having dinghies and other equipment stolen from their boat.

§13-234-9 Stay-aboard or principal habitation fee for offshore mooring or anchoring; this, again relates to anchoring offshore in Hawaiian waters, and piles on an additional fee to that above for living aboard the vessel while anchored.  This rule increases the rate by a full 100%.

Feedback to this rule change was similar to the one above, about anchoring in Hawaiian waters, especially on one's own tackle.  One avid sailor queried: "What are we gettin' for this?"  and indeed, that's a valid question since there isn't much on offer and its not clear what it is, exactly, that boaters are paying for.

Summary, Offshore Mooring Live Aboard Rates feedback:   

  1. The primary feedback on this issue centered on, again, the almost complete lack of facilities for boaters wanting to anchor in Hawaiian waters and substantial security issues. One person asked about what exactly it was that boaters were getting in exchange for this now fairly sizable fee.


§13-234-13 Gear locker fee (boaters facing from 100% to 300% locker fee increase)

Boaters commenting on this increase had mixed reactions.  Some were not terribly concerned about this increase, while others felt that, "well, before there be can any additional hike in fees,  there should be an attempt by the state to upgrade at least the triangular fiberglass boxes so that they can't be so easily broken into."  Security continues to be a major concern for boaters using the public harbor system. 

Summary, Gear Locker Fee Increases:   

  1. The primary feedback on this issue centered on the poor design, as it relates to security, of the triangular dock boxes in the harbors. Some feel that the state should upgrade these dock boxes first to provide at least minimal security before charging more money for them.


§13-234-7 (2)(b) (Transient vessel stayaboard fee - i.e., temporary permits): there will be a full 500% increase for transient vessel stayaboards / temporary permits.

Since none of the boaters we asked were not harbor tenants, feedback came from a few who were more concerned with the implications of an increase of this magnitude.  The increase is sudden and some boaters wondered where the mandate suddenly came from.  "We could all, any of us, need this transient system -- if we, for example, sell our boat and later come back with another needing temporary mooring . . . ".   Boaters seemed to be more worried, though, about the 'flightiness' of a system that suddenly jacks rates to 500% of former while promising nothing new in the way of infrastructure upgrades.

Summary, Transient Vessel Fee Increases Feedback:   

  1. The primary feedback on this issue centered on the suddenness and poorly understood justification for such a steep and sudden increase --  that this could be an indicator for how problems are being solved in the DLNR hierarchy.


§13-234-34 [User] Fee for [recreational] use of state boat launching ramps (increases of nearly 100%). 

The most animated feedback that we got on this line item had to do more with the deplorable condition of many of the launch ramps in the state.  Some that we talked to referred to them "unsafe" or "sketchy".  These boaters were angry because the state is asking for a hefty increase in fees while doing nothing about upgrading the crumbling facilities. 

Summary, Launch Ramp Fee Increases Feedback:   

  1. The primary feedback on this issue centered on the deplorable condition of many of the launch ramps in Hawaii.  We got the sense that boaters might be okay with the fee hike if only the state would step up to the plate and upgrade the facilities that needed upgrading. 


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