Increased boat harbor, commercial use permit fees go into effect Nov. 1

A boater washes his boat at the designated spot at Kawaihae Harbor North in this file photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
Captain Dan McSweeney's Whale Watching Adventures departs in March from its slip at Honokohau Small Boat Harbor. (LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today, file)
The Bite Me sportfishing boat returns to Honokohau Small Boat Harbor in March. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawii Today, file)
The Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor South. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Big Island boaters will be doling out more green come November when increased fees for small boat harbor users and commercial operators on state waters go into effect.

Effective Nov. 1, new mooring, utility, facility, storage and ramp fees go into effect at all 16 small boat harbors statewide, including five on Hawaii Island, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) announced Monday. In addition, operators making profit off state waters will pay more for commercial use permits.


It’s the culmination of a proposal by the division back in October 2018 to increase fees and change rules for many uses of its state small boat harbors and facilities to reflect current market rates. According to the DLNR, the state last increased fee amounts for utilities and facilities at state small boat harbors in 1994 and about seven years ago for mooring fees.

“Our goal was to set fees that are fair according to use,” Ed Underwood, DOBOR administrator, said Monday in a media release. “DOBOR is only allowed to collect fees to pay for expenses of operating, maintaining, and managing our facilities. The revenues from the fee increases over time will help to reduce the significant backlog of deferred maintenance so we can make our harbors safe and appealing once again.”

When the division initiated the rule-making process last fall, deferred maintenance at small boat harbors, launch ramps and wharves and piers across the state totaled $310.4 million, according to a 10-page report listing the projects posted by the division in October. Hawaii Island accounted for about $68 million.

Among that total was more than $32 million in various work at Honokohau Small Boat Harbor to include comfort station upgrades, dock and boat ramp repairs, paving, and wastewater system improvements alone expected to cost $4.3 million.

Deferred maintenance at other facilities around the island ranged from $1.8 million (Milolii Landing) to over $10.8 million (Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor North). Deferred maintenance at Kailua Pier totals $5.9 million and includes repairs to the wooden docks on the west side of the pier and a new covered waiting area structure.

The DLNR, upon further inquiry, was unable to provide revenue estimates for the new fees.

Last fall, when the rule-making proposal was initiated, staff calculations projected the increased fees at only six major small boat harbors would result in additional revenue of $2.49 million, including Honokohau and Wailoa that would generate additional revenue of $713,397 and $63,447, respectively.

“The actual anticipated revenue is unknown at this time but it is expected to get the mooring program closer to a breakeven point,” Dan Dennison, DLNR spokesman, wrote in an emailed response. “As for the commercial use permits the generated revenue will help to maintain the harbors and ramps.”

All funding used for capital improvement projects would still need approval from the Legislature, however, he added.

The changes follow a series of public hearings, including two held on Hawaii Island earlier this year, and Gov. David Ige’s signing of the amendments into law on Aug. 13. More than 10,000 boat owners across the state were notified of the changes when they were proposed back in fall 2018.

Updated are slip fees for harbors, price of electricity, shower access, dry storage, vessel registration, and numerous other fees associated with vessel operation and use of boating facilities. By statute, slip fees for mooring a vessel are now set by appraisal, as determined by a third-party appraiser, DLNR said Monday.

For example, dry, on-land storage will soon cost $3 per foot per month, up from $1-$1.15 per foot per month, and electricity costs (when the state furnishes power) starting Nov. 1 will be $40 per month, up from $5.75 per month. Launching from state boat launching ramps will also cost more with users seeing the annual rate increase from $40 to $75 and commercial users paying $300, or 3% of gross receipts, per month, up from $75.

Mooring rates will also go up, the amount depending on facility. The cost to catwalk moor will rise from $7.79 to $10 per foot per month while Tahiti mooring will increase from $4.17 to $6 at Honokohau, for example.

Also going up is the fee for commercial use permits, which are required of anyone using state waters for profit. Permit fees will increase from the greater of $200 per month or 3% of a company’s monthly gross revenues to the greater of $300 per month or 3% of monthly gross revenues.

The division said the commercial use permit system, put in place about five years ago, enabled DOBOR to identify and track numbers and places where legitimate commercial operators charge for excursions, lessons, and tours in state waters.

“Our increase was minimal considering the length of time since we have had a fee increase,” said Maggie Brown, president of Body Glove Ocean Adventures, which holds a mooring permit and a commercial permit to operate from Kailua Pier. “I am just grateful DLNR is not increasing our commercial permit gross receipts, that would be a hard pill to swallow, as those fees are a substantial amount of our revenue.”

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