Bill introduced to address management of Honokohau Small Boat Harbor

  • A boat captain has to unlock a gate at the south west end of Honokohau Harbor in order to gain access to his vessel. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Bathrooms on the south side of Honokohau Harbor are locked on Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Boats are parked in their slips Wednesday at Honokohau Harbor. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A boater waits to be helped at the Harbor Master's Office at Honokohau Harbor on Wednesday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Honokohau Harbor (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Boats are parked in their slips Wednesday at Honokohau Harbor. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

A bill that would give a Honokohau Small Boat Harbor working group management authority over the facility with the state’s oversight and assistance is making its way through the state Senate.

Sen. Dru Kanuha (D-Kona, Ka‘u), who is among the measure’s introducers, said the bill is needed because Honokohau Small Boat Harbor “is a very important resource for our community” and the recommendations by the working group and discussions pertaining to its future need to be documented and addressed.


“Since 2018, the Honokohau Working Group was created by DLNR to provide a platform for harbor users, recreational users, commercial users, state and local officials, and their staff to convene and discuss concerns. During that time, we had discussions about improving the harbor but there have been issues with setting regular meeting times, retrieval of documents from DOBOR, and providing follow-up to items discussed,” Kanuha, a member of the group, said. “Therefore, Senate Bill 1404 is critical to promote productive discussions and improve accountability by ensuring the working group recommendations are formally addressed, available to the public, and disseminated to the appropriate officials at the Department and Board of Land and Natural Resources.”

SB1404 was co-introduced by Kanuha, Lorraine Inouye (D-North Hawaii) and Joy San Buenaventura (D-Puna), with co-sponsorship by Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran (D-Oahu) and Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D-Maui). It passed its first reading on the Senate floor in late January and was referred to the committees on Water and Land and Judiciary.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Water and Land, chaired by Inouye with Keith-Agaran as vice chair, took up the measure.

Management of Honokohau Small Boat Harbor was transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Land and Natural Resources in 1991, according to the measure. Since then, a host of businesses have used the harbor without agreement or paying rent for structures built to support their enterprises.

According to the bill, the DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) is “grossly underfunded with inadequate staffing and communication and organizational challenges that disproportionately affect the neighbor islands” resulting in a lack of adequate management of facilities, including the 272-slip Honokohau Small Boat Harbor.

While the working group formed by the DLNR a couple years ago has improved communication between harbor tenants and state officials, “structured and consistent oversight” of DOBOR is “necessary to ensure the working group’s recommendations are formally recorded, presented to the public, and appropriately considered,” the proposal reads.

The bill, if passed, would establish and formalize the ongoing efforts of the working group to function as the management authority of Honokohau Small Boat Harbor with the oversight and assistance of DLNR and DOBOR.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources in testimony said the bill is not necessary since the working group was established years ago. Further, formalizing the group under Hawaii Revised Statutes would subject the department to Chapter 92 rules covering public agency meetings and records.

“We’ve been operating the Honokohau working group now for about 2.5 years and they’ve been really helpful in just trying to figure out what to do with some of the land that we have. If we put this is in statute, then it’s subjects to sunshine, which we would have to do further requirements and then minutes and the whole nine yards,” said Meghan Statts, assistant administrator for the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, who added the division recently hired a district manager that will work with the current working group.

Under SB1404, the working group would be reformed and include: the DLNR deputy director; the DOBOR administrator; one member of the state Senate from the district in which the harbor is located; one member of the state House of Representatives from the district in which the harbor is located; a governor’s representative; two members appointed by the DLNR deputy director from among the membership of the Hawaii Fishing and Boating Association; and four community-at-large members appointed by the district’s senator and representative.

The group would be tasked with a host of duties: from creating a sustainable business plan with community support to exploring private-public framework and other management and planning opportunities that would allow for the state to contract harbor management or lease its assets to a private entity while retaining ownership, governmental oversight, and control of fees as their first order of business.

It would also develop guidelines for new marina management rules to address issues such as operations, enforcement, fee schedules, and performance standards; undertake the duties of performing harbor management, maintenance, and improvement project tasks under the supervision of the division of boating and ocean recreation; and work with public and private agencies involved in developing and implementing programs related to the harbor; and review bids and contracts that became effective starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Quarterly reports would be due to the Legislature beginning in 2022, and for the three years after that. As written, the group would dissolve on June 30, 2026.

“This working group would allow for all the voices involved in the harbor to be heard and provide win-win solutions for all involved to better the state of our harbor,” area resident Kristin Kahaloa wrote in support of the measure. “There are a great deal of economic opportunities that would be advantageous for our community, including our Ocean Recreation businesses, fisherman and others, with the right collaboration and support that this working group could achieve.”


After hearing testimony and discussing the proposal, the measure was unanimously passed with Bennette E. Misalucha (D-Oahu), Kurt Fevella (R-Oahu), and Gil Riviere (D-Oahu) joining Inouye and Keith-Agaran with “aye” votes.

It next needs to pass a second reading on the Senate floor before securing a hearing before the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

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