Business owners say state officials aren't listening to their concerns as the Department of Land and Natural Resources moves forward with a plan to charge parking fees at Honokohau Harbor.
But the administrator for the boating division says the problem is businesses just don't want the fees at all -- not that he isn't listening.
Jill Jermann, co-owner of Pacific Rim Fishing Supplies and Pacific Rim Clothing, which opened in January, is worried that having to pay the fees will drive store and restaurant owners out of business.
"What part of recession do they not understand?" Jermann said. "There's got to be other ways to make money."
The proposal includes charging $90 a month for a business owner or employee, or a dollar a day, up to $25 a month, to park in the areas farthest from the boats, as well as 40 cents per hour for other harbor uses. That would mean about $450 a month for passes for her employees, a cost either she would pay or would have to pass on to employees. That figure would be closer to $1,300 a month for the Harbor House restaurant or several thousand for Gentry's Marina, which manages the harbor's business end, she said.
Another concern, longtime boater, harbor user and business owner Rick Gaffney raised this week with state officials, was whether the fees were properly announced and the plan followed administrative procedures. A legal notice about the plan was published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and a small Big Island publication, which was not named, in December 2007. Gaffney said he did not believe those publications were considered papers of record, which is the type of publication in which legal notices must be published.
A 2007 hearing was held in Waimea, which Gaffney said did not seem to be following the intent of the law. A third question Gaffney raised was whether the department will require any parking contractor to provide additional parking lot security, as described in the 2007 notice about parking fees. Officials told him recently that just having parking fee enforcement created greater parking lot security.
Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation Administrator Ed Underwood said he thought that, with a public meeting April 7 and a meeting with a handful of business representatives Wednesday, he was responding to those worries.
"We're weighing what they said at the meeting," Underwood said. Charging fees "is not off the table. They just don't want to pay."
Some changes have been made since the initial proposal; he said he had not yet had a chance to discuss Wednesday's meeting at the harbor with DLNR Director Laura Thielen.
Business owners said Friday representatives of Gentry's Marina unsuccessfully tried to acquire a lease for undeveloped state land adjacent to the harbor, but said Underwood claimed that never happened.
Underwood said Friday he was working on a plan to discuss that next week with Gentry's, which holds the lease for the shopping and restaurant area at the harbor.
Harbor lessees and residents who use the harbor have also complained, consistently for years, about the condition of the harbor. Dave Zeoli, who owns the fishing supply and clothing store with Jermann, pointed to light fixtures that have been dark or flickering for years. He walked through the parking lot, pointing out puddles in the unmarked gravel lots and potholes at the entrance to a ramp.
He's frustrated, he said, because despite the state going ahead with a plan to increase boat mooring fees by 90 percent over the next several years and start charging for parking, the money won't necessarily be used at Honokohau.
"The harbor hasn't had any improvements for 20 years," Zeoli said. "None of this money is coming back into the harbor."
Underwood said the money will go to the boating special fund, which will pay for repairs at all harbors, including Honokohau. Why can't the money stay at Honokohau?
"Then how are you going to support Kawaihae or Wailoa?" he asked, naming other state harbors.
The business owners had little sympathy for the department's position. Jermann called on hundreds of residents and harbor users to attend an upcoming meeting about the fees. No date has been set. She also wants West Hawaii residents to flood elected officials with their protests.
"Kona will not vote for you if this goes through," Jermann said. "We need to keep going. That's our only option."
This will cost working local people and small businesses dearly.