UH Marine Center told to relocate in 2014, but needs funds, space
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: December 17, 2012
The 80 or so businesses left at the old Kapalama Military Reservation at Honolulu Harbor have been given an early 2014 deadline to vacate as the state proceeds with plans for a $250 million, 90-acre shipping container terminal to handle Hawaii's growing import needs.
One tenant that may go grudgingly is the University of Hawaii Marine Center, which, unlike smaller businesses on month-to-month leases, has about 16 acres at Snug Harbor and a gratis, or no-payment, lease through 2038.
The state Department of Transportation Harbors Division wants the UH Marine Center to move to Piers 34 and 35, and UH is willing to do so.
But after years of negotiations, the university program now says it is being offered less land, less building space and not enough funds to make the move.
Brian Taylor, dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, said while the latest estimate for building renovations at Piers 34 and 35 is $16 million, the Harbors Division allocated $8 million, or half of what's needed.
UH officials said the two large research ships at Snug Harbor help make the university one of the top five ocean science institutes in the country.
The Transportation Department agrees that it would pay $8 million for building renovations but disputes Taylor's figure that the renovation cost is $16 million.
The department said in an email that "in a joint and concerted effort with UH SOEST throughout this past year, the project went through a design (planning session) to find ways to reduce costs."
The latest relocation plan offers six acres at the piers and a 7.1-acre Sand Island site instead of the 16 acres in current use, and about 50,000 square feet of building space compared with the 80,000 square feet used now, Taylor said.
Taylor said UH agreed to $4 million in concessions — including not moving two overhead cranes and its submersibles, currently at Makai Pier in Waimanalo, to Piers 34 and 35 — but it's going to have to go to the state Legislature in the coming session and ask for $6 million to make the move work.
The total includes $4 million for the building shortfall and $2 million to move its small boat operations to Sand Island, Taylor said.
"We've basically been working under the principle, OK, we understand the need that you'd really like to have this space that we occupy and have for a long time," Taylor said. "But we need somewhere else that has equivalent facilities, and, so, how does that work?"
"So the long story is they are going to do sort of half the building (at Pier 35) in an occupiable way," he said. The other half will have walls and a roof but no lights or fixtures.
Taylor said a 44,000-square-foot existing warehouse that housed the Hawaii Stevedores and Hawaiian Ice would be modified at Pier 35, and 5,000 square feet of storage would be added on Sand Island, along with a new 200-foot floating dock to accommodate the marine center's small boats.
He pointed to a 2006 House concurrent resolution calling for UH and the Transportation Department to "find a suitable location offering comparable dock space, storage and staging areas, services, size, and proximity to UH, which is beneficial to all parties involved and ensure that funding is available for its relocation."
Taylor said the UH Marine Center is getting another type of deal. "It's like bait and switch," he said.
The total cost of the possible move to Piers 34-35 and Sand Island is about $28 million, Taylor said.
The department said Friday that it is paying "more than $20 million" to have the center relocated.
"The DOT has always been committed to providing (the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology) with the basic infrastructure that they need, with the acknowledgement that upgrades beyond what DOT provides must be supplemented by the UH," the agency said in an email.
Robert Hunt, the center's superintendent, also noted what appears to him to be a funding shortfall.
"Originally we were told — and, of course, this has gone through several administrations — is that we move over there (to the other piers) and yes, we have to take a smaller site, but they would make us whole — essentially cover all the costs to do that," Hunt said. "Now it appears that they are not going to cover it."
Taylor declined to say whether research or personnel cuts would have to be made without completely building the existing Pier 35 warehouse.
"In the worst-case scenario, that we can't get the building completed and we don't have all the space that we need, we can't be as productive," Taylor said. "We just can't."
The SOEST program is responsible for 850 jobs and has a $145 million budget, Taylor said.
The center under it has about 70 employees, smaller 40- to 60-foot boats that do near-waters research and two large research vessels that roam the Pacific, the Kilo Moana and Ka‘imakai-O-Kanaloa.
The basic research provided by the two bigger vessels "is where the cutting-edge science gets done in ocean sciences," said Sandy Shor, associate dean for research with SOEST. "So it's real important."
Shor said it takes a lot of space to support the research equipment and instrumentation, and there are more than 100 steel containers at the marine center, some holding mobile research labs that go on and off the ships.
In 1973 UH was given a 65-year lease on 16 acres at Snug Harbor, former U.S. government property.
As early as 1989 a container cargo facility was included in a Honolulu Waterfront Master Plan.
A 2011 environmental impact statement notice for the Kapalama Container Terminal said 80 percent of Hawaii's goods are imported, and 98 percent of those come through its commercial harbors.
"As the resident population in the islands continues to grow, and to ensure continued and unimpeded movement of cargo in and out of the state, as well as between the islands, the commercial harbors in Hawaii must undergo major expansion and improvements," the notice said.
Most of the old Kapalama reservation adjoining Snug Harbor comprises World War II warehouses with asbestos siding and peeling paint.
The recession slowed the pace of the project, but the department now says it is expected to start in 2014 and be complete in 2016. The department said in July 2011 it let business tenants at Kapalama know their leases would be ending in February 2014.
"Everybody knows that it's happening and is looking for places to go, and little by little, places are closing up so nobody is scrambling at the last minute," said Jim Foti, who operates Hawaiian Discovery, importing patio furniture from Vietnam.
In 1994 the state proposed relocating the marine center to Pier 38, but planners decided that was better used as a fishing village. Since 2006 UH has worked with the department on the proposed marine center move.
The university and the department continue to discuss the relocation, "but we haven't agreed to move because we haven't got the terms of the move settled," Taylor said. "We're trying to work together with the state to make this better for everyone, but for our students and for our research, which really does matter for the state, we also need a place to operate that's functional."