Officials attempt deal with governor to get fair rides to Neighbor Islands

Near doubling of shipping costs over recent years has made process unprofitable for E.K. Fernandez

Lakena Makaena, 2, waved to family members last year while riding the merry-go-round on the third day of the four-day Maui Fair. State, E.K. Fernandez Shows, Young Brothers and fair officials are working to find a way to waive wharfage fees for interisland shipping of carnival rides and games. The continuation of fairs on the Neighbor Islands has been threatened by high shipping costs. The Maui News file photo

Fair coordinators are hoping Gov. David Ige will identify Neighbor Island fairs as a “purpose for public good” and waive wharfage fees to ship carnival rides and games to keep the popular events running in the face of rising shipping rates.

Avery Chumbley, president of the Maui Fair Alliance, said Tuesday that Young Brothers, state Department of Transportation Harbors Division and E.K. Fernandez Shows officials met with coordinators at the governor’s office for about two hours last week to discuss the shipping issue surrounding the fairs. He said the group came up with the proposal that requests Ige to instruct the Harbors Division to waive its wharfage fees for fair rides and games.

“It was a very constructive and successful discussion,” Chumbley said. “It helped us identify each other’s concerns and problems, and reach a solution that would get us to a commitment to be able to continue to do the fairs.”

Chumbley will draft the letter. He said he hopes to have it signed by all three Neighbor Island mayors, including Mayor Alan Arakawa. He said the proposal would make Neighbor Island fairs more economically sustainable for E.K Fernandez and provide a “greater level of certainty” for the annual Maui Fair.

As a result of the meeting, the entertainment company has committed to the 95th Maui Fair, scheduled for Oct. 5 to 8, President Scott Fernandez said. He has not committed to a contract extending to the fair’s 100th anniversary, but he called a long-term deal on Maui “ideal.”

“We absolutely want to do long-term contracts. I just have to wait to see how everything turns out,” he said. “Young Brothers has been very cooperative and helpful as well as the fair chairmen. They’ve been patient, and they understand.

“I think we’ll all get there. It’s just a matter of working it out,” Fernandez said.

In March, the company canceled the Maui County Carnival and cited shipping rates that have doubled over the past decade.

The company paid Young Brothers, which is the sole carrier of shipped goods between Honolulu and the Neighbor Islands, about $300,000 a year to ship equipment for Neighbor Island fairs prior to 2010, Fernandez has said. Last year, his company paid more than $500,000 for shipping and would have had to pay an extra $16,500 this year.

Shipping rates have risen more than 40 percent in the past three years, which includes $10,000 to $15,000 worth of damage to equipment in shipping, Fernandez said. The company has absorbed increased costs since 2011 and has refrained from raising ride prices.

Aside from the shipping costs, Hawaii’s temporary ban on imported wild animals caused the company to lose over $1 million at the 50th State Fair, last year, Fernandez said Tuesday. It was the first time the company was barred from showcasing lions, bears, elephants and other wild animals at its shows after Ige placed the restriction on such animals at the end of 2015.

“That’s what makes us different from all the rest of the fairs,” Fernandez said of the animals. “Fifty percent of our income comes from the state fair. Think of it as Christmas for retailers. If Christmas fails, then the store fails.”

The ban could jeopardize the company as well as its Neighbor Island fairs, which are subsidized by the profits from the state fair, Fernandez said. The last time wild animals were brought to Maui was in the late 1980s, he said.

“These forms of entertainment are not available to the average family and that’s what makes E.K Fernandez unique,” he said.

While this year’s Maui Fair will not have any lions, tigers or bears, it features livestock, horticulture, orchids, homemaking, photo and art exhibits and competitions, officials said. The E.K. Fernandez Joy Zone, along with local food vendors, entertainment and rides, also will return.

The fair themed, “Celebrating the Greatest Things in Life,” will additionally hold how-to demonstrations, a chili cook-off and the third annual Maui Fair Pie Contest.

• Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS