Where’s the Money? Hawaii’s DLNR Unclear About Harbor Revenue/Expenditure Trail

(Editor's Note:  The DLNR has a history of funds mismanagement.  See this article by West Hawaii Today: CLICK HERE)


Public Testimony
Eric R., Honolulu 

I live at the Ala Wai Harbor with my wife and two-year-old daughter.  I am writing in advance of tomorrow's meeting (March 2nd, 2019, Public Hearing) to ask that DOBOR representatives be prepared to give a forthright explanation to attendees of the meeting about the future plans for the Ala Wai, because DOBOR simply has not been transparent in this regard.

DOBOR currently has its feet on two separate paths.  On the one hand, it has sought and received approval from BLNR to put out a request for bids for those wishing to "partner" with DOBOR to "improve" the harbor (similar to what Diamond Parking has done?).  DOBOR's plan is to develop condos and wedding chapels, and maybe even a ferris wheel, where the current harbor office stands, where the old fuel dock used to be, where the haul-out facility used to be.  It is not clear how such uses of the land fit within the harbors' purposes under HRS 200-9, which says that "[s]tate small boat harbors are constructed, maintained, and operated for the purposes of:
(1) Recreational boating activities;
(2) Landing of fish; and
(3) Commercial vessel activities

"Setting aside that issue for now, DTL was hired by DOBOR to promote this effort in the community.  I attended the meetings put on by DTL, and they were simply a waste of everyone's time who attended.  We were handed pictures of fish, living coral reefs, koa canoes, etc., and asked to write pretty thoughts about the Ala Wai on pieces of paper, based on the pretty pictures, that were thrown in the trash after the meeting.  Anyone who wished to speak was swiftly cut off, and the meeting  abruptly ended to everyone's surprise and anger.  Every detail of the meeting was highly controlled by DTL's experts and the picture that was presented to the many cameras in the room was that the public was really having a chance to shape the "vision" of the Ala Wai's future.  However, any actual concern that was raised was written down on a "Parking Lot" piece of paper to end discussion of that topic, and thrown in the trash post-meeting.  This is not the way to treat the people who pay your salaries, simply put. Since that meeting (a second similar meeting was also held), there has been essentially ZERO maintenance of the Ala Wai.The 800 Row is completely shut down because DOBOR botched the contract to repair it, elsewhere in the harbor hundreds of slips are broken and/or empty, the bathrooms are overrun by homeless who destroy them and DOBOR's solution is to just close the bathrooms, docks are being condemned left and right, the wait list is at a stand-still, condemned boats occupy slips for years and years, and the harbor has essentially been abandoned by DOBOR (save for Cory Fujioka, who deserves to be Harbor Master if not already for his efforts--day, night or hurricane--to keep the harbor functioning).

What we have been witnessing over the past year or so appears to be an intentional effort to let the harbor degrade to a point where everyone will agree that DOBOR cannot handle it on its own.  DOBOR's incompetence and total neglect of the harbor actually helps its efforts toward privatization, and this is apparently its strategy.  Indeed, DTL (I suspect) was having articles published in the paper soon after its meetings to emphasize DOBOR's incompetence in order to suggest that privatization is the only option.  See e.g., "Floating Along In A Mismanaged Harbor, Honolulu Star Bulletin, April 25, 2018.

Separately, DOBOR now seeks a comprehensive change to its own rules to, among other things, significantly increase slip fees.  However, no slip fee increase should go forward unless and until DOBOR accounts for the money that it has been collecting from Ala Wai permittees, which is required to be spent only on the harbors and not on any other DLNR purpose.  One obvious question that will come up tomorrow is, where has the money that is currently being collected been going? See HRS 200-8 ("[A]ny fees collected within small boat harbors shall be expended only for costs related to the operation, upkeep, maintenance, and improvement of the small boat harbors.").  Clearly, none of the money that DOBOR has collected has gone toward maintaining the Ala Wai.

There are many other issues to discuss tomorrow with respect to the proposed rule changes (e.g., the proposed new rules do not provide for a schedule A and B for mooring fees in violation of Section 200-10 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, "[t]he moorage fees shall be set by appraisal categories schedule A and schedule B, to be determined by the department and may be increased annually ... to reflect a cost-of-living increase" and "Schedule A shall include existing mooring permittees[.]" and "Schedule B shall apply to all new mooring applicants....").

However, I want to raise a few questions now, ahead of the meeting, so that DOBOR has a heads up that we need real answers to the following questions to understand DOBOR's various proposals: 

1) What are DOBOR's real intentions with respect to the Ala Wai? 

2) What is the current status of efforts toward privatization/development?

3) Why is DOBOR seeking to increase fees while also seeking to hand control of the harbor to a third party?

4) Why is a slip fee increase needed when obviously no money is being spent and the harbor is effectively abandoned? 

5) Where has the money that is currently being collected going? 

6) What measures are in place to ensure that, going forward, money collected from harbor residents is used in ways that complies with the law.

7) Why should anyone believe that money will be spent on the Ala Wai post-fee increase if no money is being spent their currently (if the answer is we don't have enough money, then please bring documents showing where all the money has been going).  

I hope that you can understand the frustration of all of the Ala Wai permittees with the lack of transparency and apparent disregard for the effects that DOBOR's actions will have on the place we call home.  The feeling that corruption is at play somewhere in this picture is inescapable.  In light of various federal investigations of Hawaii officials and/or agencies that are taking place currently in Hawaii, transparency is probably DOBOR's best choice.
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Rachel Simon
Rachel Simon
5 years ago

I totally agree. I would like to know where the money we pay goes each month? They are not putting one penny into the harbor. There is a small floating dock in front of the harbor masters office in the Ala Wai where we would go for inspections. That dock is now condemned. THE STATE OF HAWAII SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES FOR NOT TAKING CARE OF THE HARBORS. Suzanne Case and Ed Underwood should both be fired!