Pohoiki replacement ramp still needed

  • People swim in the pond at the boat ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park, also known as Pohoiki beach park, in December in Puna. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — A community meeting will be held Saturday to discuss a recent engineering study that recommended a new boat ramp be built in Puna.

The meeting is set for 1-3 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 15-3003 Pahoa Village Road, Pahoa.

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The meeting will be hosted by Puna state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura and will be attended by Rep. Chris Todd of Hilo, Bob Masuda, first deputy of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, County Council District 5 representative, and Diane Ley, county Research and Development director.

The existing ramp at Pohoiki, which is the only boat ramp between Hilo and Milolii, closed shortly after Kilauea began erupting in May 2018 and eventually became land-locked by what is now a 200-foot-wide black sand and cobblestone beach.

While it’s technically possible to remove sand and create a channel to the Pohoiki ramp, an engineering study commissioned by the DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, which was released in June, found that effort would be expensive and full of uncertainties associated with sand movement and coastal processes continuing in and around Pohoiki Bay.

An alternate site evaluated in the study, Malama Flats, is located just south of McKenzie State Recreation Area and “appears to offer reasonable conditions for design of an inland excavated ramp facility, however no quantitative site information is presently available,” the engineer’s report stated. “The ramp alternative as presented is basically a generic ramp design placed on the Malama Flats topography. Estimated construction costs are considered representative for this type of ramp facility.”

Sea Engineering estimates it would cost approximately $37.9 million to restore the existing Pohoiki ramp, which would require a channel to be excavated through the new beach and kept open by jetties perpendicular to the shore.

The estimated cost for a new ramp at Malama Flats is $14.5 million and would include, among other features, an entrance channel, a rock wave-absorber along the entrance channel and basin, a single-lane concrete boat launch ramp, a concrete ramp approach pad, loading dock, walkway, lava rock retaining wall and access roadway.

San Buenaventura said the upcoming informational town hall meeting aims to gauge community sentiment about the Malama Flats recommendation and ask for alternative site suggestions.

“We are hoping the meeting will have community people who are more aware of the coastline changes since Google Maps put out their mapping,” she said.

According to San Buenaventura, they’re looking for a location on the Puna coast without cliffs, as close to sea level as possible, hopefully on public land and in an area “where the current is such that it would not need a sea wall,” San Buenaventura said. “As soon as we require a sea wall, that is going to take a lot of time.”

The engineering study examined an area extending about 10 miles south from Pohoiki Bay to Kalapana, and found the shoreline is almost entirely rocky sea cliffs, with deep water close to the shore and high ground elevations near and no shallow water embayments or “significant headlands to provide natural wave protection.”

Originally, San Buenaventura said the meeting was scheduled to let local fishermen know the progress of the study, “but now that the study has come out, we’re hoping to get suggestions for alternative sites,” as well as discuss whether there could be a comprise with the Malama Flats suggestion.

San Buenaventura said people contacting her are unhappy with the recommended Malama Flats site, but if there could be a compromise that would allow for the fishermen to fish and the public to enjoy the area as it is, it “would allow the fishermen to be able to use the Puna coast as a launching site” sooner than other locations.

She hopes people who come to the meeting won’t just say “no” to Malama Flats, “but actually come up with suggestions.”

“Allowing Puna fishermen to recover is important,” she said. “(It is) one of the few industries that remain in Puna. Recovery is needed for everyone, not just the people who don’t need to fish.”

San Buenaventura said fishermen have struggled to pay additional fuel costs of not only bringing boats to Hilo to launch, but the boat fuel required to travel around the coast.

And the financial burden of Puna fishermen is “shown in the added fresh fish cost,” she said.

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Prior to the eruption, more than 30% of the fresh fish caught on the Big Island came from the Puna coast.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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