Pohoiki boat ramp makes progress

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources will soon hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study about potential locations for the Pohoiki boat ramp.

The only boat ramp between Hilo and Milolii, the Pohoiki ramp closed shortly after Kilauea volcano began erupting in May 2018 and eventually became landlocked by a black sand and cobblestone beach.

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The closure has affected the ability of Puna fishermen — who now have to launch from Hilo and boat back to Puna waters — to easily access the ocean, which subsequently has impacted their livelihoods.

The state Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday approved a supplemental capital improvement budget that included $1.5 million for a Pohoiki ramp.

The measure still needs to go before the full Senate for a vote. It would then head to conference and another full vote from both chambers of the Legislature before going to Gov. David Ige for approval.

Earlier this year, Ige released $500,000 in state funding to be used for planning and feasibility studies for the ramp.

Finn McCall, engineer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said the DOBOR is working to select a consultant and execute a contract for the work, which could take up to six weeks.

“The consultant will provide the feasibility study, which would be in the form of an environmental impact statement,” he said. “The process for completion of the EIS can take up to a year or more, depending on the complexity of the analyses that need to be done to select the most appropriate location for a new boat ramp.”

McCall said the EIS also will explore temporary or short-term options to make the existing Pohoiki ramp usable again.

After a site has been selected, McCall said it will take approximately four years to complete the design, permitting and construction.

“This timeline is essentially the same regardless of whether a short-term/temporary solution or a permanent facility is built, as the design and permitting is essentially the same for both,” he said. “Construction durations may vary, depending on what is built.

“We know how important having a boat ramp in Puna is to the entire community and will continue to provide updates as the EIS moves forward,” McCall continued.

State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura of Puna said any progress on a Pohoiki ramp is good progress.

“We’re hoping they could have done something sooner rather than later,” she said, adding that the best news is that the state Senate kept funding for Pohoiki in the capital improvement budget, which was passed by the House in February, before the onset of COVID-19.

At a time when the state is facing massive budget deficits because of the virus crisis, San Buenaventura said the Pohoiki ramp will be part of the economic recovery of the state: It will help fishermen and put construction money in lower Puna while it’s being built.

“Hopefully, DLNR, after the feasibility study, will realize the faster they move towards putting a ramp in Pohoiki, the faster lower Puna can recover not only from the lava crisis of 2018, but also from this COVID-19 crisis,” she said.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman of Puna said allocating money in the CIP budget is good news from the Legislature, but his frustration has not changed with DLNR’s “complete lack of action.”

“… It’s been a year and a half, and I think it’s time to make a plan and begin to move forward,” he said. “The net results has been no action. (There are) difficult decisions to make, but not that difficult, in my opinion, to decide to repair the ramp.”

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said the temporary solution could become the permanent solution.

“We don’t know, but it’s best to put everything on the table and figure out what we can do right now to get our lawai‘a back in the water,” she said. “We have to do everything we can to help them recover. Fishermen, our farmers, our food producers — they are our lifeline.

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“As we are navigating coronavirus, the people that produce our foods, we need them. They’re the key to our overall food security as well as economic and community resilience.”

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

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