Construction to begin this summer on long-awaited harbor expansion project


After years of delay, a project to improve the eastern portion of Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor is moving forward.

The Department of the Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District, has issued a letter of permission authorizing the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’s Division of Boating and Outdoor Recreation to begin phase one of the expansion project, which had been stymied by the difficulty of obtaining the proper federal permit for such work and fulfilling the environmental obligations.

For more than four years, there were environmental disputes concerning the potential impact to coral and listed species in the Endangered Species Act. Montipora patula is one of the 14 coral species found at the project site. Federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, had instructed DLNR that it must mitigate impacts to the coral and the habitat before any construction could begin.

At the request of these agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers, DLNR completed numerous studies and made revisions to the project design to mitigate damage to corals and other ESA listed species. The Department of Army permit was finally issued on March 21.

DOBOR Administrator Ed Underwood could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The permit issuance is a satisfying victory for Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala, chairwoman of the House Committee on Water and Land, who has helped champion the project through its arduous journey, including holding numerous meetings with state and federal officials to find a solution to the coral mitigation issue. A groundbreaking ceremony is slated to take place in June, and construction is expected to be completed in May 2014, Evans said.

“This is a significant accomplishment for the community. I always believed this project would happen and felt this was the right thing to do, even with the frustration and long process,” she said. “The issues raised by the federal resource agencies took more time than usual to resolve, but I knew if we stayed with it and continued to make this a priority, our persistence would pay off.”

Sen. Malama Solomon, D-North Hawaii, was also pleased about the progress.

“These improvements have been long-awaited by the North Hawaii community and will greatly enhance the safety and capacity of our harbor,” she said.

Evans said the project, costing more than $4.7 million, was awarded to Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. in August 2008. A partial notice to proceed was issued on April 9. Among the Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor (South) improvements listed are an 8-foot-wide, 445-foot long floating dock held in place by 17 concrete piles, each 16½ inches in diameter, as well as a 47-foot-long access ramp, gangway and 25 morning buoys, which will provide 25 berthing stalls for light draft vessels to “Tahiti moor” to the floating dock. This is will help in getting the recreational boats out of the commercial harbor, she added.

Concerns have risen over the years about the issuing of mooring permits and presence of recreational boats in Kawaihae Deep Draft Harbor. DOBOR controls mooring permits for the Kawaihae north and south small boat harbors while the state Department of Transportation operates the commercial deep draft area of the harbor. Mooring within the deep draft harbor has been allowed on an interim basis. Instances of commercial barges breaking lose and hitting boats have occurred.

Other phase one improvements include paved accessible parking, trailer parking, a gravel topped access road and more parking, a comfort station, outdoor shower, boat wash-down area and hose bibs, Evans said.

Gunner Mench, South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee chairman and owner of Harbor Gallery in Kawaihae, is grateful for the persistence and tenacity officials put forth in making the project a reality. However, he said the project has been greatly scaled down and noticed it no longer includes “integral parts of the whole expansion” like the boat ramp or any work on the access road. “Still, this is momentous movement in the right direction,” he added.

Evans vowed Sunday to continue to pursue advocating and finding funds for the needed three-lane boat ramp, which was deleted from the present project, as well as improving access.