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Aila: Big Island not left in the wake

Updated: 
April 10, 2014 - 12:05am

The head of the state Division of Land and Natural Resources visited Honokohau Harbor on Wednesday to make the case that the island is not getting the short end of the stick.

DLNR Chairman William Aila pointed to millions of dollars in ongoing and planned projects for Honokohau, Kawaihae and other Big Island harbors, saying the public and media haven’t given his department a fair shake.

“The reports are that we are Honolulu-centric, that we don’t care about the neighbor islands,” he said. “The community is continually hammering on us that nothing is getting done.”

West Hawaii has more than $8 million of the $22 million in ongoing projects statewide on the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation roster, according to a list provided by division engineer Eric Yuasa.

While other islands received more attention in the past because of the political landscape, focus and dollars have swung to the Big Island under the Abercrombie administration, Yuasa said. Chief among the West Hawaii projects are the new $4.7 million floating dock with 25 slips at the Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor and $2 million to repair tsunami damage at Kailua Pier and the Keauhou Small Boat Harbor.

Another $1.9 million worth of projects in the design phase include paving the north parking lot at Honokohau, a new boat washdown area with drains, a vessel sewage pumpout and replacement of the loading dock at the east ramp. Those jobs are estimated to start in August and be finished in June 2015.

The Hawaii Fishing and Boating Association, some owners of ocean recreation businesses and residents have been critical of the pace of improvements at Honokohau and complain that DLNR officials are unreachable. Gov. Neil Abercrombie has been critical in the past over the pace of improvements at Honokohau — change he touted during campaigns on the island.

“We are being very responsive in Kona,” Aila said.

Aila and DOBOR Administrator Ed Underwood met with West Hawaii Today at the harbor office.

“We have redirected a lot of our capital improvement project money to Honokohau Harbor in acknowledgment that some of the boaters’ requests had merit,” Aila said.

DOBOR put $240,000 into water systems upgrades for the harbor last fall — a 25-year-old galvanized pipe system had leaks and clogs in the lines. The upgrades included new lines, and new pressure regulators that have solved water pressure issues after some initial troubleshooting, said DOBOR’s Interim Hawaii District Manager Daniel Mersburgh.

But Rick Gaffney, president of the fishing and boat association, said in a separate phone call that the improvements haven’t solved problems of very high water pressure in some areas and low pressure in others. The harbor also still falls short of keeping restrooms clean and trash cans empty, particularly on weekends, he said.

Aila said his department has grappled with a lack of staffing to clean restrooms and has asked the Legislature for more workers for the past three years. The Big Island has three laborers who work holidays and weekends to try to keep up, Aila said, but union guidelines prevent the department from contracting the work out. People also tend to use the area to dispose of household trash, he said.

“We’ve searched every possible solution,” Aila said. “The only thing we can do is hire more workers.”

A bill in the Legislature would add six laborers statewide.

“If we get six, we’ll give the Big Island three,” Underwood said.

Other recent improvements include a $116,000 covered waiting area and a $102,000 restrooms upgrade completed last fall. The restrooms were repainted; fixtures, partitions and plumbing were replaced and the floor was resealed. DOBOR also tried to improve lighting around the harbor with an experimental solar project, which was put out to bid three times with no takers.

“Nobody was interested in a small project like that,” Yuasa said.

As more evidence the state is doing it’s best by the island, DLNR officials pointed to recent dredging at the Kawaihae North Small Boat Harbor, and loading docks that have been installed in the past couple of months in Kawaihae and Puako to replace damage from winter storm surf.

Wednesday, Yuasa and Aila planned to dive off the breakwater that shelters the north small boat harbor ramp at Kawaihae. The height of the breakwater must be increased to protect the ramp and loading dock from storm surges that bring sand into the protected area. That means the breakwater must also be widened, and Yuasa said he wanted to investigate the area to see if there are any coral growing where construction might take place.

“We’re not just sitting in the office in Honolulu,” Yuasa said.