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Thielen: Honokohau is not mismanaged

The following statement was released Wednesday by Laura Thielen, chairwoman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources:

Some boaters in Honokohau Harbor have questioned the state’s management. They want to keep all the revenues from the harbor – including lease rent from lands near the harbor – for exclusive use at Honokohau at the expense of our statewide system of harbors.

And, Mufi Hannemann, in his campaign bid to outdo his opponent and take shots at the current administration, has jumped on the bandwagon to support these demands without knowing the facts.

Their proposal would unfairly benefit a select group of boaters who are already being subsidized, and come at the expense of about 13,000 other boaters, hundreds of canoe paddlers, ocean recreation activities, and coral reefs across the state.

How is that possible? Honokohau boater fees do not cover the cost of operating Honokohau. Not one of the state’s 20 small boat harbors is fully supported by boater fees.

Every single slip holder in every small boat harbor is subsidized by revenues that don’t come solely from the pockets of boaters in the harbors, but from a combination of sources such as lease rents paid by restaurants patronized by the general public, the general public parking in harbors, a small percentage of the state fuel tax, and federal grants.

Honokohau boaters are arguing that the rents from lands near Honokohau are “theirs.” But that is simply false.

The lands around the harbors were not paid for by boaters. They are public lands dedicated by the state for the public purpose of the statewide boating and ocean recreation program. Those lands belong to all of us and are for the public benefit – not just the select few who have slips in one harbor.

The state’s policy has always been that everyone in Hawaii should have access to the ocean. Accordingly, the rents from lands near the four commercially viable harbors subsidize all 20 small boat harbors, the 25 boat ramps, piers and landings outside of harbors, and the ocean recreation program.

This is no different than the way we have been able to operate our statewide system of airports that have enabled all islands to have quality facilities that they would otherwise not be able to afford.

If we used the land rents from the four commercially viable harbors exclusively for those four harbors and their few hundred slip holders, we would have to shut down or severely reduce the 41 other facilities across the state.

However, these 41 places are virtually the only ocean access for the bulk of Hawaii’s 13,000 boaters and hundreds of canoe paddlers. In addition, these non-boater revenues support the removal of abandoned boats on reefs, managing ocean events such as canoe races, and operating the boating safety program.

Honokohau is not mismanaged. During the past seven years, the Lingle-Aiona Administration has implemented over $100 million in capital improvements in small boat harbors across the state.

Honokohau is currently receiving almost $2 million in road, water and electrical capital improvements this year. The slip holders in Honokohau have seen the benefit of all their fees put into the harbor and more.

While the slip holders complain that their facility does not look like the private marinas, they need to understand that they are not paying market rates for their slips. This is not mismanagement. Not one of the boaters with slips in small boat harbors are paying market rate for slips.

DLNR has recently adopted a five-year step increase in slip fees, but even with the planned increases, these slips will continue to be subsidized. This is only possible through our statewide system of fund.

The charge of mismanagement is merely an attempt to distract people from the fact that boating fees do not cover the cost of the program and that boaters do not support paying the same rate as their peers in private harbors.

What the Honokohau boaters are really claiming is that they are entitled to an even greater subsidy than they already receive – even if it comes at the expense of the majority of other Hawaii residents accessing the ocean through the majority of boating facilities.

Hannemann should stop making statements that are simply untrue. He should stop denigrating DLNR’s hard working employees by calling for a “cleaning house” of the department. While I will be leaving at the end of the year, our civil service employees who have performed admirably will stay on and continue executing their jobs.

Finally, Hannemann needs a better understanding of this program before making promises that unfairly benefit a select few and negatively impact so may people across the state. That is, unless he plans on increasing taxes or fees on everyone else to offset the increased subsidy to Honokohau.

Laura Thielen
Chairwoman
State Dept. of Land and Natural Resources

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