The state Department of Transportation is moving forward with plans for $133 million in improvements at Kawaihae Harbor.
A final environmental assessment for the harbor project was released Friday with a finding of no significant impact allowing the project to move forward. DOT officials said they would pay for the project using primarily Harbor Special Funds, which is derived from fees collected from the commercial harbor users.
No time table for construction was provided other than “implementation is expected to be continuous over the coming decade.” The department’s Public Information Office did not respond to messages left for additional information as of press time.
The proposed improvements would ensure the harbor can meet existing and future cargo capacity demands; add adequate berth length and yard space to accommodate multiple users with varying vessel length and depth; improve safety of navigational and land operations; and ensure Kawaihae Harbor meets current federal security requirements, according to the project’s final Environmental Assessment.
They would also increase safety for workers and recreational users at the Coral Flats; support Department of Agriculture efforts to implement biosecurity programs by allocating space; protect the public and public resources by improving island resiliency and maintaining flexibility to respond when natural disasters occur; and enhance security from adjacent recreational users.
Among the proposed work is 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.
Because new dredging will be required, the department will need to secure a Department of the Army permit to comply with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act.
The work contained in the project is identified and prioritized in the Hawaii Island Commercial Harbors 2035 Master Plan Update completed in 2011 and subsequent Kawaihae Development Studies. The plans said the improvements would be needed over the next 10 years to 15 years in order to meet harbor and island needs.
According to the document, citing information from the master plan update, Hawaii Island could see the number of containers arriving at its Hilo and Kawaihae harbors increase from 152,613 in 2008 to as many as 430,810 in 2035; and cargo increase from 399,067 tons in 2008 to as much as 413,962 tons in 2035. Petrofuel cargo will also increase from 4.9 million barrels in 2008 to as many as 9.2 million barrels in 2035.
“Eighty percent of all consumer goods used in Hawaii are imported. Hawaii’s commercial harbors receive and process 98.6 percent of these imported goods,” the final Environmental Assessment reads. “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 US mainland and foreign countries to residents and businesses.”
If not addressed, according to the document, by 2030, Hawaii’s standard of living will be reduced significantly and price levels will increase substantially.
“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,” the document said, citing data compiled by Hawaii Pacific University economics professor Leroy Laney for the Hawaii Harbor Users Group 2007 study titled “The Impact of Hawaii’s Harbors on the Local Economy.” “In practical terms, this means that without harbor upgrades, the cost of a can of green beans in 2030 will go from 2.88 to 3.42, a case of cola from $9.83 to $11.67 and a queen-size mattress from $1,094.48 to $1,299.08.”
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 and completed it in 1959. 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.