The state Department of Transportation broke ground Thursday for a more than $7 million project that will increase cargo space at Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor, as well as improve operational safety and efficiency for users.
Approximately 3.1 acres will be paved at Pier 2, now dedicated to cargo barges and shared by two users. Associated infrastructure improvements, such as the installment of LED lighting, fire protection and drainage, will also occur, said Carter Luke, DOT Harbors Division engineering program manager.
The two existing buildings, the DOT Harbors Division office and the comfort station, will be demolished. A temporary office trailer will be constructed in a nonsecured area between the Young Brothers and Matson yards, Luke said.
Ports are the lifeline in the Hawaiian Islands, bringing in the vast majority of the goods needed by businesses, residents and visitors. Approximately 80 percent of all goods are imported into the state, and of that, 98 percent are shipped in through ports. Hawaii Island has seen steady growth in cargo for the past 30 years, and projects like this one will help meet the current and anticipated demand for cargo moving in and out of the island’s harbors’ terminals, Luke said.
The improvements are part of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s New Day Work Projects, aimed at creating jobs and stimulating the economy. When Abercrombie was elected, he promised to not be Oahu-centric and help rebuild the state’s economy by putting people back to work. This project honors that commitment, said Marvin Wong, special assistant to the governor.
DOT gave Isemoto Contracting Co., the project’s contractor, the notice to proceed on Jan. 16, and the state agency is still waiting to receive the work schedule. Once work begins, the project is anticipated to be completed in 12 to 18 months, Luke said.
Leslie Isemoto, president of Isemoto Contracting Co., said his company just needs to finalize the preplanning, which includes surveying, and the project would likely begin in a couple of weeks. He also estimated the project will generate more than 50 jobs, from on-site workers to suppliers.
The project will also improve the quality of life for several Kawaihae residents, including William and Lani Akau, who have endured and dealt with the terrible dust from the undeveloped area and coral flats for years. During Thursday’s groundbreaking, various speakers acknowledged William Akau and thanked him for his work as a former Kawaihae Harbor master. His father was also the harbor master.
Besides Luke and Wong, the other speakers were DOT Director Glenn Okimoto; Patti Cook on behalf on Sen. Malama Solomon, D-North Hawaii; and Young Brothers President Glenn Hong. Kahu Sonny Shimaoka of Four Square Denomination performed the blessing that included untying a maile lei.
Following the ceremony, Gunner Mench, South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee chairman and Kawaihae Local Resource Council member, said he was excited about the project finally starting, especially since the community has been waiting for such improvements since the previous administration. Mench said DOT requested funding for paving at Pier 2, but damage inflicted on the harbor by the Oct. 15, 2006, earthquake and the economic downturn delayed the effort. He also spoke about the importance of re-educating elected officials and state employees about the issues every time there’s a change in guard, as well as expressing gratitude when projects move forward and are completed.