Testifiers suggest phasing in proposed fee hikes at small boat harbors

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Captain Dan McSweeney’s Whale Watching Adventures departs Tuesday morning from its slip at Honokohau Harbor.

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii is asking boaters to pay more money for the right to use its harbors.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation on Monday in Kailua-Kona hosted the first of several public hearings planned throughout the state to discuss fee increases at Hawaii’s small boat harbors and some other facilities.

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The state hasn’t raised those fees in almost 25 years.

Carl Miller operates a sailboat charter business out of Kawaihae. He suggested slashing fee increases at his harbor to reflect the lack of amenities there as compared to Honokohau Harbor and others. He also mentioned tying the timing of fee hikes to when the work the increases are paying for actually begins.

“It’s been a while since they raised the rate and the $150 a month that we’re paying is probably not market value, but quadrupling it … making it $600 a month, that’s crazy,” Miller said. “And it’ll put us out of business and a lot of other charter businesses as well.”

Most opinions offered fell on Miller’s side of the issue, but only a handful were formally given. Roughly 50 people attended the meeting in the Kealakehe High School cafeteria that wrapped up in about 25 minutes.

Five people in attendance signed up to testify publicly, two of them choosing not to step to the microphone once their names were called. Two others not signed in chose to stand and voice their opinions after sparse participation elicited a “wow” from the mouth of the hearing’s moderator, DOBOR Hawaii Island District Manager Stephen Schmelz.

The sentiment from the rest of the testifiers, save one, came out more or less in line with Miller’s.

Eric McCormick mentioned that instead of implementing a 50 percent increase in ramp fees, phasing in the cost increases would be a more palatable approach.

“I would suggest that instead of a flat fee increase, a more progressive way to do it would be to have a percentage rate increase, only so small operators are not penalized for six-pack charters versus some operators … that are carrying 20 to 30 passengers,” he said.

Dennis Friedman has had a slip since 1985. He, too, spoke of being disappointed that fee increases weren’t being phased in, among other issues with the state’s plan.

“It seems like the private boats and the charter boats are going to be paying for the rest of the harbor’s improvements on our dime, and I don’t think that’s right,” he said. “There’s got to be a better way to do this.”

Steve Kaiser, a commercial fisherman who launches out of Kawaihae, was the sole testifier to take up the alternate side of the issue.

On a waiting list “for decades” to get a slip of his own, Kaiser said he wouldn’t mind paying the extra fees as long as they are used to pay for the stated improvements.

He said even with the increases, Hawaii boaters are getting the better end of the bargain.

“It’s a deal, guys,” Kaiser said. “If you don’t believe it and you crying, I’m sorry.”

Kaiser also offered to take a slip off the hands of any person in the audience wanting to part with one.

“Getting a slip here in Hawaii is like Hawaiian Homelands — I’m gonna be dead by the time I get (one),” he said. “You guys wanna get out? I’ll take ’em. I’ll pay the money.”

Proposed rule amendments are accessible online at http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dobor/draft-rules. They also can be viewed from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at any DOBOR district office.

Email Max Dible at mdible@westhawaiitoday.com.

Harbor fee increases proposed

Mooring fee (per foot)

CURRENT, PROPOSED

Honokohau

Catwalk $7.79, $10.00

Tahiti Moor* $4.17, $6.00

Kailua-Kona

Tahiti Moor $3.87, $6.00

Kawaihae, north

Tahiti Moor $3.58, $5.00

Kawaihae, south

Catwalk $5.09, $10.00

Tahiti Moor $1.75, $6.00

Wailoa

Catwalk $7.25, $9.00

Tahiti Moor $3.58, $5.00

Not listed

Catwalk $10.00

Tahiti Moor $6.00

Offshore moor/anchoring

On state buoy, anchor, cable $1.52-$2.56 $5.00

On permittee’s buoy or anchor $1.03-$2.04 $3.00

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Annual boat ramp decal $40.00, $75.00

*Tahiti moor is mooring the boat perpendicular to the dock, rather than parallel

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