DLNR looking at new boat ramp site within Pohoiki Bay

In this photo from Aug. 31, 2018, a sand bar blocks the boat ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park. (U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY photo)

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Puna fishing community are continuing to discuss possible solutions to the landlocked Pohoiki boat ramp.

Last week, fisherman and tour boat operator Ikaika Marzo took more than a dozen lawai‘a (fishermen) and representatives from state agencies, including a DLNR engineer, on his boat from Hilo to the Pohoiki area.


“It was a successful trip for sure,” Marzo said. Fishermen could give their input and the engineer could “have the perspective of the fishermen from the ocean side.”

The only boat ramp between Hilo and Milolii, the Pohoiki ramp closed shortly after Kilauea began erupting in May 2018 and eventually became landlocked 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 existing ramp, an engineering study released in June by DLNR found that effort would be expensive and full of uncertainties associated with sand movement and coastal processes continuing in and around Pohoiki Bay.

Sea Engineering estimates it would cost approximately $37.9 million to restore the existing Pohoiki ramp.

An alternate site evaluated in the study, incorrectly identified as Malama Flats but known as Ka‘akepa, is located just south of MacKenzie State Recreation Area.

That site is no longer being considered a location for a new boat ramp, DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation said in an email Thursday.

DOBOR said the department is looking at a new boat ramp site, just to the north of the existing Pohoiki ramp but within Pohoiki Bay.

“Dredging of the existing entrance channel to the existing Pohoiki Boat Ramp has been discussed in order to provide temporary access,” DOBOR said.

“The state would still likely have to prepare an environmental assessment and will have to obtain all necessary state and federal permits to perform the work. There is also no funding currently available for preparation of permitting documents, plans/specs, and most importantly construction, which could be several million dollars.”

Dredging, however, is the only temporary solution being proposed right now. A permanent solution will require construction of a new boat ramp, DOBOR said.

The dredging will require an environmental assessment, while a new boat ramp will require an environmental impact statement, but both projects need state and federal permits.

Funding is also a challenge for both projects.

“The dredging would have to be funded solely by the state, since FEMA will not provide funding for ongoing maintenance dredging,” DOBOR said. “FEMA funding is available for construction of a new boat ramp.”

According to DOBOR, no timeline is in place for access, “but the state is working diligently with the local boating and fishing community as well as state and county representatives to expedite both short-term and long-term solutions as quickly as possible.”

The state did have an Aug. 31 deadline to provide a cost estimate for a new ramp to Hawaii Emergency Management Agency for their review prior to submitting the estimate to FEMA, but DLNR has received an extension to Sept. 4.

After the state and FEMA agree on a cost estimate for a new boat ramp, FEMA will begin the process of providing the funds, DOBOR said.

“I’m glad that the state saw the importance of taking a look at the situation from another viewpoint,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said of the Aug. 22 boat expedition. “We can’t just make land-based decisions if these decisions were going to be impacting Puna fishermen’s ability to access the ocean. It just boils down to well-rounded and well-informed decision making.”

Kierkiewicz said she also is organizing a meeting from 2-4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, for Puna fishermen with the hopes of formalizing a working group concerning the boat ramp.

County Council in July approved a resolution urging DOBOR to form a working group with the county, community members and fishing community to plan and develop a boat ramp for Puna.

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

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