Legislators want Puna boat ramp study expedited

  • People swim in the newly formed pond at the Pohoiki boat ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna.

Lawmakers are working to fast-track a study to determine the best way to reopen a boat ramp in lower Puna.

The Pohoiki boat ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park is the only public boat ramp to access the ocean from Puna and has been inaccessible since last August, when lava entering the ocean during the Kilauea eruption deposited approximately 14,000 cubic yards of black sand in front of the ramp, forming a sandbar that rendered the ramp unusable.

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Since then, the fate of the boat ramp has been unclear, although a state assessment determined the ramp escaped any damage during the eruption. In 2018, a Department of Land and Natural Resources engineer said restoring the Pohoiki ramp appeared possible, but the department also was surveying other potential sites for a new ramp.

State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, D-Puna, said she is working with state House Finance chairwoman Rep. Sylvia Luke, an Oahu Democrat, and the DLNR to expedite a study to determine the cost of each boat ramp option.

“There should be some monies available from last year,” San Buenaventura said. “We’re working with the finance chair to determine how they could be legally used.”

Otherwise, San Buenaventura said, the study’s funding will have to be added to the state budget through a bill, which would take months to pass, if it passed at all.

Because the study cannot begin without funding, San Buenaventura said she does not know which sites would be suitable alternatives to the Pohoiki location. However, she said some members of the Puna community requested a new ramp be constructed elsewhere in Pohoiki, leaving the present ramp unusable behind a black sand beach.

San Buenaventura also said some residents recommended a site in Kalapana, which was echoed by state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, Ka‘u. Ruderman said a specific site in Kalapana near Uncle Robert’s Farmers Market would be an ideal location for a new boat ramp.

Ruderman listed several obstacles that he thinks would make reopening the ramp at Pohoiki unfeasible.

First, while dredging the sandbar in front of the ramp is possible, he said the water currents would continue to trap sand and debris in the same area, requiring regular dredges to keep the ramp usable.

Second, Ruderman said, there currently is no official road to the boat ramp. While access to Isaac Hale was restored recently with a graded road over the surrounding lava flows, Ruderman said a boat trailer would not be able to traverse that road. Boat access would only be possible by fully clearing lava from Highway 137, which Mayor Harry Kim has repeatedly said will not be possible until April.

Finally, Isaac Hale still has no electricity or water, which are vital services for fishermen using the ramp.

Ruderman said the owners of Uncle Robert’s market have seemed amenable to the possibility of opening a boat ramp in the area, although he added that official decisions have not been made.

However, others think restoring the existing boat ramp is the only logical choice.

Michael Trask, founder of the Big Island Fishermen’s Association, said he and much of the fishing community think it is unreasonable to expect a new boat ramp to be built any time soon.

“It took us 20 years to get that ramp,” Trask said about the Pohoiki location. “The quick fix is to get a crane down there and dredge it up so we can use it again.”

Because a new boat ramp will require a seawall to be built to shield the ramp and vessels from the waves, Trask said he does not expect the cost of dredging the Isaac Hale sandbar to outweigh the cost of a new ramp.

However, Trask and San Buenaventura said a decision will have to be made soon.

“That ramp means more income for our community,” Trask said. “There’s a lot of people, fishermen, who depend on that ramp who are suffering.”

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DLNR representatives could not be reached by press time.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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