Officials celebrate Pier 4 improvements

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A state-funded project to upgrade the Big Island’s largest port facility has reached its final phase.

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A state-funded project to upgrade the Big Island’s largest port facility has reached its final phase.

On Friday morning, state Department of Transportation officials and lawmakers broke ground on the interisland cargo terminal of Hilo Harbor’s Pier 4 project.

The ceremony, which included a blessing from kahu Brian Welch of Haili Congregational Church, took place on the most recently completed area of the multiphase project: a brand-new container yard, which expanded total capacity of the port to 10 acres for cargo operations.

The project also included improvements to the port’s Kumau Street entrance, which widened the street from two lanes to four.

“These improvements represent an important piece of the DOT’s ongoing harbor modernization program,” said Darrell Young, deputy director of the DOT harbors division. The modernization program includes work on harbors in Honolulu and Kawaihae.

The final phase of the $68.5 million project is construction of the 602-foot reinforced concrete pier itself, which is set to be completed in July 2017. Initial estimates for the total project cost were $55 million.

When complete, Pier 4 will be used exclusively for interisland cargo ships.

Currently, the only interisland pier at the port is Pier 2, which was built in 1920.

Roy Catalani, vice president of strategic initiatives and external affairs for shipping company Young Brothers, Ltd., said that to have the pier still in use after 80 years was “kind of a remarkable engineering feat” and a testament to those who had originally built it.

He thanked DOT Harbors Division engineering program manager Carter Luke for keeping the aging Pier 2 operational for so long.

“Because it’s way past its useful lifetime, it required the resourcefulness of Carter and his team to get us to this day,” Catalani said.

Pier 2 is currently used by Young Brothers for its cargo operations. Its location means that the cargo traffic is often mixed with cruise ship passenger traffic at Pier 1, creating safety concerns.

The realignment of pier usage will “help safety and help the opportunities for the passengers who come,” said Wil Okabe, liaison for Gov. David Ige. “This particular piece would definitely help acknowledge a lot of things.”

“For the county side, we’re happy that this is moving forward,” County Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi said. “When I got in (to council), people were talking about traffic when the cruise ships come in and the bottlenecks, and the buses and taxi drivers.”

Plans for restructuring the port to improve traffic flow first began more than a decade ago, said state Sen. Lorraine Inouye. Inouye chairs the Senate transportation and energy committee, and has been involved with the development of Pier 4 since its early phases.

Early plans had to be reconsidered after 9/11 prompted new security concerns at the ports.

The Pier 4 project kicked off in 2011 with the dredging of Hilo Harbor. In its first year, petroleum-based contaminants were found in the soil of the new container yard, prompting a five-month delay and a new environmental health assessment.

Rick Hetzel of Hawaii Harbors Constructors JV, the Pier 4 general contractor, said that the project had received its Section 401 water quality certification from the state Department of Health on Thursday.

“That’s a monumental achievement,” he said. “It sets the standard for our future harbor projects.”

“Our lives literally depend on these harbors,” Hetzel said, citing the importance of Kauai’s port infrastructure after Hurricane Iniki hit the island.

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“This pier project will provide that same security for the Big Island.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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