Legislators See Through DoBOR’s Fee Increase Ruse, Defer SB1257 indefinitely

Misleading Appraisal, Fair Market Value Confusion, and Previous Laws Doom SB1257

True Intent of Legislation Outed by Public During Deliberations

The House/Senate Committees, trying to figure out the DLNR/DoBOR inspired SB1257 legislation that sought exponential increases to harbor fees, finally gave up after four attempts and deferred the bill on the last day of committee hearings in this legislative session (April 26, 2019).  The current Legislative session ends on May 2, 2019.

DoBOR’s intent had a squeaky clean face and a dark underside: on the face of it, the legislation represented itself and its authors as appearing to be responsible in seeking a standard upon which to peg harbor fees.  The first standard was based on a 2017 CBRE appraisal -– what each marina slip was worth based on surrounding property values –- and a second standard based on something called Fair Market Value, partially dependent on the latter appraisal. 

The appraisal was scrutinized by knowledgeable public interests and was quickly found to misrepresent harbor assets and values, casting considerable doubt about the credibility of this document. 

No one seemed to know how, exactly, to calculate the Fair Market Value of a slip in our public marina system, mainly because it is a public entity and fee evaluation must take into consideration fair access to average-income Hawaii boaters.

An alternative standard proposed by legislators had to do with a section in the Bill that would have charged Hawaii’s boaters a 50% increase in fees the first year and then every two years thereafter.  When it was pointed out that there was already a law on the books that held rate increases to 5% per year, or pegged to the standard Cost of Living increases, legislators had to take pause once again. 


But there is much more to this story

There is, however, more to this Bill than an innocent-appearing need for more revenue.  Competent public scrutiny was persistent and thorough and a question arose concerning a companion Bill, HB1032, which was being heard at the exact same time, in the exact same room, by the exact same legislators, that sought to allow the unrestricted privatizing of submerged and fast lands in all of Hawaii’s public harbors, statewide.  As deliberation proceeded, it was becoming clear that the only reason why DoBOR would want to raise fees so drastically, in such a short period of time, was to make the harbor package look as attractive as possible to corporate respondents to its anticipated request for proposals.  In other words, DoBOR has been planning, for a number of years now, to privatize the public harbor system in Hawaii; they’ve gone so far as to team up with DTL Hawaii to publish a nearly thirty-page glossy brochure explaining its plan to privatize Hawaii’s harbors, beginning with the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.  If DoBOR was able to come to the negotiation table with much higher revenue numbers and, possibly, the elimination of the liveaboards in the harbor system –- a huge incentive to corporate interests who don’t want the hassle -– they would be much better positioned to attract quality bidders and get higher lease fees.

It appears that the innocent-looking fee increases in SB1257 were actually a cover for a much larger plan, already under way, and one that would set a dangerous new precedent: the unchecked leasing of Hawaii’s submerged lands.  Those in the ocean recreation community who were monitoring this legislation reminded legislators of the Bill’s many shortfalls, deceptions, and dangers.

Legislators took the high road and deferred the Bill, possibly indefinitely, but this kind of legislation bears continuous scrutiny by members of Hawaii’s public.  It is especially important that those in the ocean recreation community ban together and demand that Hawaii’s public near-shore and offshore submerged lands remain in the hands of the public, as a matter of law.

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5 years ago

So glad these were laid to rest for now. We must keep Ala Wai for the people of Hawaii, that is, the working folk who don’t have a lot in this area that has otherwise been taken over by millionaires, note Ala Moana Shopping center.