Boats are tied to a finger pier at Keauhou Bay Thursday. (Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Department of Land and Natural Resources officials are awaiting federal approval before moving ahead with plans to double the number of moorings at Keauhou Bay.
Bay users say they have concerns about how DLNR has approached the project, noting particular worries about the impact more moorings could have on species within the bay and how safe the DLNR’s proposed mooring layout will be for boats.
“Our biggest concern is the lack of wave analysis,” Fair Wind Vice President Mendy Dent said.
DLNR officials have told her the new mooring layout will be safe for waves up to 2 feet and 60 mph winds.
“Come January, February and March, we can have 8 foot, 10 foot waves,” Dent said, adding that 60 mph winds are unusual. “We typically don’t have big winds. We get big swell.”
DLNR also wants to put one of the Fair Wind vessels in an area where waves break, Dent said.
Despite her concerns, Dent said she isn’t opposed to increasing moorings.
“(The bay) could probably handle a few,” she said. “It needs to be done where the boats are going to be safe.”
She would like to see more study of the bay take place.
Another harbor user, Patrick Cunningham, said the engineering report didn’t adequately address how natural resources in the bay could be impacted by even more boats and moorings. A supplemental portion of the report, in addressing concerns about animal species that frequent the bay, noted that during a survey period, no federally listed threatened or endangered species, including sea turtles, monk seals and cetaceans, were observed.
Cunningham said those species do come to the bay.
“There was a monk seal last week,” he added. “It’s not a comprehensive study. I have seen many turtles right off the boat ramp.”
The bay and harbor are suffering from an “increasing impact causing a shrinking resource with increasing need,” Cunningham said.
“We definitely need resources,” he said. “Tourism is the biggest industry in Kona” and the facilities in West Hawaii are often “subpar.”
Increasing the number of users at Keauhou will stress another resource there, Cunningham added. That’s parking, which is also limited.
He’s also concerned about the DLNR’s ability to get the necessary U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits to install the moorings. Officials there have told him the moorings that are in the harbor now are unauthorized, placed without the Corps’ permission, despite a federal act passed more than a century ago requiring federal approvals for items placed in the country’s navigable waters.
DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Resources Administrator Ed Underwood said earlier this week he has heard concerns from harbor users, but noted several studies show the harbor could actually support more than the 16 proposed mooring sites.
“We think that’s a comfortable number,” he said.
The extra moorings are necessary, he said.
“There’s already a wait list” for the new spaces, Underwood added. “There’s not that much space.”
The new moorings won’t block the channel and won’t prevent the canoe club from being able to access the bay, he said. The new moorings won’t add commercial activities, either, because they will be set aside for recreational users.
Underwood said he didn’t know when the Corps might rule on the permit request.
“It’s hard to tell,” he said. “It’s been there a couple months.”