Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2023 |
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After a decade of disrepair, the Laupahoehoe Boat Ramp soon could be restored.
The ramp is the only point for boats to access the ocean between Hilo and Kawaihae, and was closed by Hawaii County in 2009 because of extensive wear from the surf.
“Boaters who know what they’re doing can still launch from there, but it’s officially closed, and we’re not supposed to do that,” said retired fisherman Bobby Gonsalves. “The waves have eroded a lot of the concrete, it brings up gravel onto the ramp and that erodes it even more. There’s rebar sticking out, and even the rebar is getting eroded away.”
But county officials are making moves to repair the ramp and restore it to functionality.
Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball said the county administration has made the restoration of the ramp a priority.
County Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said the county has $5 million in capital improvement funds lined up for an eventual ramp restoration project.
“We’re preparing contracts to put out for the design phase,” Messina said. “Once we’ve worked through the design, then we’ll have a better idea how soon we can repair the ramp.”
Kimball said some preliminary designs for the project have entailed a modular replacement for the ramp that can be repaired section-by-section in the future, but Messina said older designs have been scrapped.
The closure of the ramp has hurt fishermen in the area, Gonsalves said. While he said that he retired from fishing for reasons unrelated to the ramp’s closure, he added that if the ramp is restored, he would love to fish on the ocean again.
“Of course, we know that if they restore the ramp, it won’t be usable every day of the year,” Gonsalves said, adding that the ocean can be rough along that part of the coast. “But those days it is available — which is more than it isn’t available — it will bring a significant positive impact to Laupahoehoe, because the fishing is abundant out there.”
But even if the ramp is restored, it still won’t be an ideal launching point. A breakwater next to the ramp, maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, also is in dire need of repairs.
“By all accounts, the breakwater has never worked,” said Bob Duerr, a member of the county’s Game Management Advisory Commission, who explained that ocean surges seem to consistently travel through the breakwater.
Gonsalves agreed, saying that the failure of the breakwater has accelerated the deterioration of the boat ramp.
A 2022 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined that the boat ramp’s usability is “only 36 percent” because the breakwater’s structure has deteriorated enough for waves to be transmitted through the breakwater’s core.
That report concluded that, because of the language used in the original construction contract, the scope of any repair work by the Army Corps will be limited only to restoring the breakwater to its original design, even though lengthening the barrier beyond that design is probably necessary to fulfill the structure’s intent.
The report also suggested that the boat ramp may have too little traffic to justify significant modifications.
However, Duerr said that the Army Corps has $8.5 million available to repair the breakwater and has conducted studies about the feasibility of doing so.
Duerr and Gonsalves all agreed that the ramp will still be usable regardless of whether the breakwater is fixed, and Kimball said that the project to repair the ramp will be conducted independently of any Army Corps breakwater improvements. Kimball also emphasized that the breakwater is entirely out of the county’s hands.
“We’re not the Dutch,” Duerr said, in reference to a character from a 1865 novel who prevented a flood in the Netherlands by plugging a hole in a dike with his finger. “We’re not going to build a whole seawall, and nobody here is going to stick their finger in the hole to fix it.”
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