Kawaihae Harbor improvements dedicated

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A relocated harbor office and new paved areas at Kawaihae Harbor are making for safer and smoother movements of cargo at Pier 2. But what to do about a small boat harbor exposed to winter storm damage remains unclear.

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A relocated harbor office and new paved areas at Kawaihae Harbor are making for safer and smoother movements of cargo at Pier 2. But what to do about a small boat harbor exposed to winter storm damage remains unclear.

Gov. David Ige, District 4 state Sen. Lorraine Inouye and Hawaii Department of Transportation officials were among the dignitaries on hand Tuesday to dedicate the $7 million Pier 2 project. A new 1,000-square-foot office located well back from the bustle of the pier means greater safety for harbor workers, said Ford Fuchigami, director for the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

Just over 3 acres of new pavement have covered bare soil which, in the past, created swirls of dust. Increased cargo yard space, fire protection, drainage fixes, new energy-efficient lighting and photovoltaic systems are among the improvements.

The project, awarded to Isemoto Contracting Co., broke ground in January 2013. Future phases of the ongoing modernization of the aging harbor will include extending the south side Pier 2 some 200 feet to accommodate larger barges, DOT officials said.

“This is really about the efficiency and effectiveness of our harbors,” Ige said, noting that 80 percent of goods coming into the state enter via the water — but that it is easy to overlook harbors and airports, economic engines though they are.

“We know the harbors are our lifeline, especially in the neighbor islands,” Ige said.

Ige was at the Hilo International Airport on Tuesday morning for a groundbreaking for an aircraft rescue and fire-fighting facility.

Asked by West Hawaii Today about state plans for North Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor, Ige said he had just been made aware of long-standing problems at that facility.

A low breakwater just offshore of the harbor fails to break the force of large swells. The battering of winter weather fills the small boat harbor with sand and breaks apart docks, leading to the need for repeated dredging and repairs.

“We will definitely be asking about that,” Ige said.

Ige said he is pushing for modernization of Kona International Airport as a second point of entry for international arrivals. Ige is also pressing to have Narita and Kansai airports in Japan added to a list of airports where passengers can receive preclearance by U.S. Customs before they even fly. The governor has met with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to advocate for approval for those airports, which are among about a hundred being considered for a short list of 12 to 15 due to be finalized sometime next month.

“The exciting thing about preclearance at Narita and Kansai is that those passenger can go to any airport, Hilo or Kona,” Ige said.

Engineers are currently assessing damage from a long-lasting swell train with 15 to 20 foot waves that pounded Kawaihae in mid-January. The waves damaged docks, undermined a paved area near the head of a boat ramp and carried stumps, boulders and up to a foot of sand onto the harbor parking lot and access road. The collapsed bank at the ramp has since been filled with concrete.

In a response to West Hawaii Today questions about the state of the North Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor following the damage from the storm, Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation Administrator Ed Underwood said DOBOR is looking at extending the breakwater further inland to prevent surf from running up the beach and draining into the harbor at the boat ramp.

“A DOBOR dive team did survey the area and the existing breakwater appeared to be in good condition,” Underwood said in a recent email.

But Manny Veincent, a coach at the Kawaihae Canoe Club, said the breakwater was once 10 to 12 feet high, before it was undermined and collapsed seaward.

“We’ve watched it for 40 years,” he said.

Veincent and lineal descendant Alex Akau gave Inouye a tour of the small boat harbor after the dedication.

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“The only way is to make another breakwater out there, but that’s going to cost too much money,” Akau said. “It takes money, but what are you going to do?”

South of that area and the cargo pier, the state’s first new harbor to be opened in 34 years was dedicated in November. The $4.7 million project featured a 435-foot long floating dock, moorings, parking, washdown areas and a comfort station.

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