DOT proposing $128M harbor improvement project


The state Department of Transportation, anticipating increased cargo volumes over the next 20 years, is proposing a $128 million improvements project at Kawaihae Harbor.

A draft environmental assessment, filed this week, doesn’t lay out a specific time frame for the project. A DOT spokesman Friday said the projects are in the early planning phases and no time frame has been established for obtaining funding or starting construction.

The environmental document said the plan focuses on harbor needs that should be addressed within the next 10 to 15 years.

The plan prioritizes a number of suggestions made in the recently completed 2035 harbor master plan.

“Terminal operations must be enhanced to accommodate a doubling of potential volumes,” the environmental assessment said. “Ocean transportation is thus Hawaii’s lifeline to the world, supporting every facet of the local economy: tourism, construction, national defense, agriculture and all other industries. Current prosperity and quality of life are highly reliant on the commercial harbors system. Ocean transportation provides the most cost effective and energy efficient method to transport cargo in and out of the state from the U.S. mainland and foreign countries to residents and businesses.”

Proposed work includes internal roadway circulation improvements, security fencing and dedication of land for Small Boat Harbor (South) and perimeter road, transfer of Pelekane Lands Buffer to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, maintenance of Army access, grading the coral flats area, relocation of the Hawaii District Office, a new comfort station, new yard pavement, structural pavement strengthening and utility improvements, security improvements, removing boulders, via dredging, for Pier 2A, reconstruction and extension of Pier 2A by 340 feet, extending Pier 2C extension 325 feet, demolition of the small craft dock facilities, and dredging at Pier 2C.

DOT officials said they would pay for the project using primarily Harbor Special Funds.

The 2035 Master Plan forecast a significant increase in cargo volumes, and a 2007 report explained the economic importance of the state’s commercial harbors.

“If harbor problems are ignored, by 2030, Hawaii’s standard of living will be reduced significantly and price levels will be substantially higher. The impact on everyday consumer goods will be pronounced,” the report said. “Inadequate harbor improvements will restrict shipping access and capacity and drive up the cost of food, household products, small appliances, and furniture by an average of 18 percent.”

DOT officials want to be able to accommodate up to five barges at once at Kawaihae Harbor.

Increasing incoming cargo will also increase gate traffic, the report said.

“Traffic backups will become an increasing problem if improvements are not made,” the environmental assessment said. “Backups will be caused by increased truck and auto volumes as well as by security clearances during periods of high security threat levels. Longer queuing space will be needed to keep traffic from backing up into the travel lanes of Kawaihae Road.”

Food security is another issue the proposed improvements would address.

“There is an increasing emphasis on preventing contamination rather than simply responding to it,” the document said. “Increased capacity and frequency of inspections, preventative controls, expanded administrative detention or quarantine of foods that are not found to be in compliance with the laws cited above, and authority to deny entry of foreign foods into the U.S. are needed to ensure the safety of the state’s food supply.”

The DOT plan also calls for more covered storage and refrigeration units to reduce the potential for spoiling food products.

The harbor master plan calls for DOT to set aside 1 acre for the Department of Agriculture to build a facility to inspect, quarantine and treat goods arriving and leaving the harbor.

“Such a facility, which will be built by DOA under a separate action, will address the needs for biosecurity and food security by allowing DOA to improve their inspection, treatment and quarantine services of food and agricultural goods, both entering and exiting the harbor,” the document said. “This will better enable DOA to protect the island’s food and natural communities from health concerns and invasive species.”

DOT officials said they anticipate a finding of no significant impact for the plan, in part because construction would take place in an already developed area. The public has through Aug. 22 to comment.

Early comments included concerns about minimizing construction impacts on humpback whales, which frequent the waters just off the harbor, as well as the hawksbill and green sea turtles.

Commercial harbor users supported the plan.

“Additional berthing space at Pier 2 will provide increased safety by allowing vessels to be moored farther apart and will afford much needed flexibility in the placement of vessels,” Young Brothers Planning and Facilities Manager Jeffrey Low wrote in 2011. “The smaller but no less important infrastructure improvements will allow the port to keep pace with growth and maintain compliance with current security requirements.”

According to the DOT, Kawaihae was a major port through the 1800s, providing a point to ship large sandalwood harvests from Mauna Kea, as well as cattle from Parker Ranch.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began building a commercial harbor in 1957.

The harbor was finished in 1959, and the breakwater was extended in the 1960s.

The completion of Queen Kaahumanu Highway in 1975 opened up the North Kona and South Kohala coasts for resort development, and the harbor was the arrival point for the construction materials used, DOT officials said.

The harbor was again expanded in the 1980s.