Because in recent years sustainability has become a buzzword in Hawaii as elsewhere, perhaps this year our lawmakers and bureaucrats will finally recognize they have been ignoring one of Hawaii’s greatest sustainable assets – recreational boating.
Historically, the state, in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, invested millions of dollars constructing numerous “small boat harbors” for recreational boaters and subsistence fishermen in the years following WW II. But those facilities were basic at best, and some became waterfront slums at worst.
To its credit, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has been slowly replacing many of its most derelict docks. But missing nearly completely are the types of shore-side businesses found near marinas from Maine to California that provide marine services as well as help to defray marina maintenance costs.
One obvious example of Hawaii’s inability to promote such shore-side businesses is the stark empty lot adjacent to the Ala Wai Boat Harbor where a boat repair yard had been thriving until about seven years ago. It and a fuel dock on another property were to be replaced by a private developer, however its rather grandiose plans fell through due to a lack of funding.
It has been clearly documented nation-wide that well-planned marinas offer a number of significant benefits to the local community, which include business and job opportunities, and as importantly, generate General Excise Tax revenues for the state.
“From increased tax revenues, to job creation, to added business at nearby restaurants, shops and attractions,” one report noted, “there are few aspects of the economy that don’t benefit from the presence of a successful marina.”
The same report pointed out that in the U.S., studies indicate that, on average, marinas generate about one-third of a job per slip or berth. That would equate to the creation of some 230 jobs in an Ala Wai-sized marina if it were run “successfully.”
Even outside the United States, governments in countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama have recognized recreational boating’s huge economic potential and have been expanding their boating infrastructures accordingly.
As some of Hawaii’s traditional revenue sources and employers like sugarcane and pineapple production disappear, and the visitor industry ebbs and flows with the world’s economic currents, perhaps an invigorated recreational boating industry could fill in some of the gaps.