Top Ten Reasons Why Hawaii’s Plan to Hijack Boaters for More Money Might Be Nothing More Than Quiet Extortion

Top Ten Reasons Why Hawaii's Plan to Hijack Boaters for More Money

Might Be Nothing More Than Quiet Extortion

While the information in this article is based on original statute documentation, and comments appearing from boaters were gained through boater interviews,  any opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff at Hawaii Ocean News


DLNR's Suzanne Case and Ed Underwood are working on a plan to stick Hawaii's boaters with substantial across-the-board fee increases, again -- some as much as 1000% this time around. No boater is immune.  Everything from harbor electrical rates to mandatory launch ramp fees, to storage fees and everything in between; if you're a boater in Hawaii, brace yourself.

Over the past seven months, Hawaii Ocean News has conducted an informal survey among boaters to discover how they felt about the increases.  It was not pretty.  Here are the top ten reasons why boaters feel that these increases might be nothing more than quiet extortion:

1. 1000% increase in electrical fees: If your boat is in a public harbor and is not metered for electrical usage, you can expect a 1000% increase in electrical fees -- WHETHER YOU ACTUALLY USE SHORE POWER OR NOT. Immediate reaction from some boaters: "Is the state trying to repackage HECO electricity and sell it at a profit?" The new flat rates for non-metered slips will be $50 bucks/month for non-liveaboards, and $125 bucks/month for liveaboards.  How did Uncle Ed and Auntie Suzanne come up with these numbers?  Short answer: they're not sure.  Uncle Ed said that he'd seen a few electrical bills from a few boats representing an unknown period of time, and based his numbers on these.  When asked to see the information (minus any personal data on the bills) we were quickly told that the bills had been "shredded in order to protect privacy . . . ".   Hum.  When asked "so, then, how did you derive your figures?"  there was a very loud silence.

Suggested solutions: Boaters suggested that those actually using large amounts of electricity, like, for example, those using air conditioners, should pay their fair share.  Needless to say, the very idea that the majority should subsidize the minority of large appliance users didn't go over well.  Boaters pointed out tons of problems with Uncle Ed's and Auntie Suzanne's electrical usage increase idea -- all having to do with "usage."  For example, should the single live aboard on a 25' sailboat pay the exact same fee as the family of four living on a 50' power boat? "Ridiculous", some said.  What about those boats who are off the grid in compliance with Hawaii's "Green Energy Initiative" and use zero electricity from the dock? "Hawaii might be selectively rewarding 'green' these days . . . . " commented one boater.

Another thought: How about reinvesting 100% of existing harbor and boater fee revenues back into the harbor system and boating infrastructure.


2.  Proposed shower usage fee: if you've got one of those card keys that can access the card-key bathrooms, then brace yourself.  Uncle Ed and Auntie Suzanne want to rake you over the coals for $15 bucks a month IN ADDITION TO  the hefty deposit you paid just to have the card.  So, all of you who keep a card for occasional use of the bathroom facilities will now pay WHETHER YOU USE THE BATHROOMS OR NOT.

Suggested solutions: Boaters suggested that the DLNR step up to the plate and use the expensive, already-in-place card-key digital monitoring systems that show exactly who is using the bathrooms, when, and how much. This would be a much fairer way to assess for use.  Blanket fees are nothing more than welfare schemes where many are subsidizing a few.


3. The Payment and delinquency clause (§13-234-2 ):  This is a beaut': under this clause you had better pay up by the fourth (rather than by month's end, now the rule) or there will be penalty fees (and negative brownie points)!  In our survey, some boaters responded that they thought this change in deadline wasn't a big deal.  However, some of our uncles and aunties boaters felt it was a really big deal, especially for those on fixed pensions and who get their fixed income checks after the fourth. These latter will now have to start making some tough decisions: give up their life-time dream of being able to go fishing or boating during their retirement years, or maybe borrow some money from the ohana until payday every single month to make up the difference (that will work for about four months if you have grouchy ohana!) . 

Suggested solutions: Some boaters say: "If they need to shorten the deadline,why not shorten it back to around the 20th of the month so there is no overlap with payments due for the following month . . . ?"


4. Public Harbor Mooring Fee Increases The whole notion of increasing fees again is riddled with serious issues:

One issue is this: only three of Hawaii's fourteen public harbors operate in the black; the rest lose money.  The Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor made a profit of $2,578,010.45 last year; Maalaea public harbor made $258,377.17 in profits; Lahaina made $512,444.95 in profits.  DOBOR Revenue profits from yacht club rental properties amounted to $692,197.90.

There is huge demand for slips at all of Hawaii's public harbors.  For example, we were told by a harbor agent at the Haleiwa public harbor not to bother putting our names on the wait-list (for slips) because one would probably not become available "in your lifetimes . . . ". (Yes, that was a quote) Why not increase slip rates at failing public harbors where there are obvious big demands for their slips so that they operate at least at break-even?  Why make harbor tenants from the Ala Wai, Maalaea and Lahaina, subsidize the poor fiscal management of all of Hawaii's other public marinas? 

Boater's first reaction to the increase proposal: "WHAT . . . we just had a fee increase a couple of years ago!"  Yep, and here comes a whopper; for some, a nearly 100% increase. And if you're at one of the harbors that is operating well in the black, you fee increase will be used to subsidized poorly managed harbors elsewhere in Hawaii.  If you were in the harbor system before 2010 you will be assessed the latter 100% increase. If you were in the harbor system from 2010 onward, you will be assessed a 30% increase.  Auntie Suzanne and Uncle Ed rationalize that we need to bring all boaters up a new higher rate. Why, exactly, is not quite clear. If they are trying to match mainland marina rates, then they should consider matching mainland marina standards--currently not available in Hawaii.  Hawaii's public harbors have often been referred to as "third world" elsewhere on the planet. How so, you might ask?

Vessels in some of Hawaii's public harbors are literally floating in human sewerage (as a result of thousands of gallons of raw sewerage flowing into them from leaks elsewhere and also as a result of no holding tank pump-out stations quite possibly in violation of Federal EPA standards); harbors are rife with drug activity and related crime, there is zero security in any State of Hawaii public harbor; and there is a fatal system-level procedural dysfunction that conspires to keep legitimate boaters out of our public harbor system while blessing a few anointed, with possible insider connections, with all the slip space they need, among other privileges.

Many boaters have asked, "why weren't the pre-2010ers brought up to par during the last fee increase?"   This is not entirely clear but, small fee increase or large, one thing for sure is that there is no indication that our public harbors will get much needed upgrades as a result of any fee increases. Our public harbor system will continue to suffer from zero security presence (aside from the eyes and ears of our legal liveaboards), crime and rampant drug activity on the docks, raw sewerage in some of our harbors,  and a whole host of other issues that seem to be worsening with time.  At the end of the day it will be HIGHER FEES and BUSINESS AS USUAL.

As if another round of fee increases wasn't enough, Uncle Ed and Auntie Suzanne have decided that those with small boats should now pay for their entire slip length rather than for the size of their boat!  So if you've got a Cal 20, or a 22' fishing boat, you will now be paying the same fee as a 28' boat.  And if that doesn't frost your butt, you'd better get that fee in by the new truncated deadline date or you're toast.  Boaters response to this:  ". . . that discriminates against small boat owners, plain and simple . . . !"

Suggested solutions: We've just had an increase. What improvements have been made as a result? Answer: none.   How about not discriminating against small boat owners. This is dishonest. Do the right thing:  Upgrade Hawaii's public harbor environments for safety, cleanliness, and accessibility (as in, restore crumbled infrastructure, clean up the water pollution and raw human sewerage, make an effort to provide our public harbors with some level of security, and revamp the dysfunctional procedural logjam so boaters that actually have boats can get into the harbor); only AFTER having done this, revisit the mooring fee increase proposal.

And . . . How about reinvesting 100% of existing harbor and boater fee revenues back into the harbor system and boating infrastructure.


5.  Principal Habitation fees (PHF): This has always been nothing more than a protection racket. A person who legally acquires a liveaboard permit and then pays the additional $5 per foot fee every single month, gets absolutely nothing value added.  Nothing.  What Suzanne Case's DLNR is saying, in effect, is that "we won't harass you if you pay us money every month."  

The problem with any amount of PHF is that those who have complied with the letter of the law and live aboard their boats legally, have to sit back and watch as hoards of boat squatters and illegal liveaboards stay sometimes for years on boats in our public harbors without fear of redress or fee.  The serious problem with any PHF is that there is nothing value added for the extra $5 bucks per foot per month. Zero. Nothing. Zilch.  Yet, it is these same legal liveaboards who are the eyes and ears of security in our harbor system -- the sole source of vigilance against crime in the public harbor system.  Boaters remind us that Auntie Suzanne's DLNR police force is a mere figment of someone's imagination.  Call them for help and you can expect to get white noise, or lots of worn out excuses.  And when they do finally show up, once a year, in the middle of the night to do a so-called sweep for illegal liveaboards, they are so poorly organized that they bang and pound on the boats of LEGAL liveaboards and wake them up (IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT), rather than carry with them a list of suspected boats with illegals on board, and focus on those boats.  What a mess.

Boaters say: it is usual and customary for renters to be compensated for work done to or for the renter's property.  Front-line security vigilance certainly qualifies, and there, by rights, should be no (as in ZERO) live aboard fee in compensation for this service.

Suggested solution: Be honest: give credit where credit is due, these folks provide the State of Hawaii with a valuable service; rescind the PHF. It provides boaters with no value added services or infrastructure access.   The loss of this revenue could be made up by reinvesting 100% of existing harbor and boater fee revenues back into the harbor system where they came from.


6.  Offshore Mooring rates: mooring and anchoring away from harbor environments:  For those of you who actually use your boats and anchor offshore on your own tackle, you'll love this one. Auntie Suzanne and Uncle Ed have decided to increase fees for anchoring/mooring in off-shore locations by as much as 33% to somewhere near 500% (see details of section §13-234-4 CLICK HERE).  They rationalize that this fee is for use of certain, mostly non-existent, public facilities while anchoring on your own tackle.  I don't remember seeing any public facilities on the west side of Lanai, Molokai and many other locations where one might anchor in the Hawaiian Islands.  (One boater asked, quite seriously, if Auntie and Uncle actually had any real offshore anchoring experiences in Hawaii)  If you anchor in Kaneohe bay, you can use the public facilities there . . . but you do so at your own risk: make sure you bring kryptonite locks and chains for your dinghy and motor because theft is rampant there and the DLNR police presence in that location is a figment of Auntie Suzanne's and Uncle Ed's collective imaginations. 

Oh, but it doesn't end here.  Chapter 13-234 also points out that there will be another fee that is heaped on top of the above: the Stay-aboard or principal habitation fee for offshore mooring or anchoring fee.  Boiling down the cumulative costs of anchoring offshore with your own anchor, or mooring offshore, you're now expected to pay an amortized $8.25 per foot per month for living on the boat that is anchored off of remote locations like Five Fingers on the west side of Lanai (check or money order is just fine).

Boater say: "Why exactly are we being charged to anchor off on our own tackle?"  The DLNR insists that the state is replete with public facilities that accommodate remote anchorages around the Hawaiian Islands. There have been no reports confirming this to date.

Suggested solution:  Base fees on realistic access to tangible state-provided facilities.  Otherwise, drop any notion of fees for anchoring in Hawaiian waters. Please don't use vaporous rational to charge boaters for 'something else' . . . if you don't provide anything of value, don't charge.  That's the honest thing to do.


7. Transient vessel stayaboard fee - i.e., temporary permits: Anyone needing a temporary mooring permit in one of our state harbors, listen up.  There will be a 500% increase in the stayaboard fee IN ADDITION TO the temporary permit fee.  Boaters say: "If the transient boater was getting some value added for this increase, then I don't see the problem with this . . . the only problem I see is that there will be nothing value added for these folks. There's no security, so they won't be safe, and the non-card-key bathrooms that they will be using are better suited for livestock."

Comments: "What does this say to our visitors from overseas?"  Yikes!

Suggested solution:  Upgrade facilities first for safety, cleanliness, and user-friendliness (both, physical facilities and paperwork hassle), and then revisit fee increases in this area.


8. Gear locker fee increases:  So you've got one of those nifty triangular plastic gear boxes in front of your boat.  Well, get ready for a 300% monthly fee increase for these.  Despite the fact that they are so poorly designed that they are regularly broken into (back hinges are flawed and everyone knows it), an out-of-touch Auntie Suzanne and Uncle Ed have decided to generate loads of additional income from these despite the fact that you may lose $hundreds of dollars in equipment due to quick-n-easy heists. 

Suggested solution: Boaters say, "Secure these boxes first, then tell us about increases after."



9.  So, you thought all of these fee increases had to do with public harbors?  Surprise! Fee increases for [recreational] use of state boat launching ramps. Yep, Uncle and Auntie are planning a nearly 100% increase for you folks who thought you were getting away with murder by not mooring in public harbors.  Forget-about-it! 

Boaters: "Okay, we can see them doing this, but what kind of improvements can we expect in conjunction with this fee increase -- the ramps in Hawaii are mostly pretty bad, and in some cases down right dangerous."  The quick answer to your question: NONE.

Suggested solution:  Upgrade launch ramps, repair and upgrade especially dangerous launch ramps and then revisit fee increases.


10. Dry storage on harbor property fee increases:  This has to do with every type of storage (except dock boxes) on properties surrounding public harbors.  So if you're keeping a trailer or a boat on dry land in a harbor area, you pay big.  There are so many examples of who may be affected by this that I won't go into it here (see §13-234-12 Dry storage, in this article: CLICK HERE)  The fee increases that they are planning here range from 150% to 500% depending on type of storage.   We are given to understand that nothing will change as a result of the increased revenue from this fee increase.

Boaters: "Gotta see if someone in the ohana will let me keep my trailer in their back yard . . ." .


Frequently heard during our interviews: "Instead of raising boater fees, how about reinvesting 100% of existing harbor and boater fee revenues back into the harbors where they came from." 


Generally, during the survey, our sense of it was that the boater community had had enough. They expressed frustration with the many failures in Hawaii's harbor system management and sounded as though they'd had enough of the results of poor management. Some expressed embarrassment over impressions by visiting boaters from overseas.  Surrounded by human waste in the water, drug crime on the docks, a complete lack of security in the harbors, crumbling infrastructure, DLNR paperwork nightmares, and now a request for still more fees, elections should be interesting to watch this year.

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