The state Department of Land and Natural Resources will seek funding from the state Legislature next year in the hope of establishing temporary ocean access at 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.
The closure has affected the ability of Puna fishermen to access the ocean and, subsequently, has impacted their livelihoods.
DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said the proposed short-term solution involves driving sheet piles on either side of the existing boat ramp entrance channel and dredging the channel.
The cost is estimated to be between $8 million to $9 million.
An engineering study released in June by the DLNR found that efforts to remove the sand and create a channel to the existing ramp would be expensive and full of uncertainties associated with sand movement and coastal processes continuing in and around Pohoiki Bay.
In August, however, DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation said dredging had been discussed in order to provide temporary access, but the state likely would have to prepare an environmental assessment and obtain the necessary permits for the work.
According to Dennison, a long-term solution for access is a new boat ramp facility on the north side of Pohoiki Bay that is still being planned.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is currently reviewing DLNR’s proposal, he said, which is estimated to cost $28 million.
Dennison said DLNR has requested the release of $500,000 from the state’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget.
“This will be used to begin preparation of an (environmental assessment), environmental permits and construction plans/specifications for the short-term budget,” he said. “Implementation of either the short-term or long-term projects will of course depend on whether funding becomes available.”
Meanwhile, members of the House Committee on Finance visited Pohoiki on Nov. 1.
Puna state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura said the committee viewed the area and the proposal from DLNR for the temporary solution and permanent ramp in Pohoiki.
“DLNR said that despite efforts, FEMA was not willing to pay for a temporary ramp,” she said. “The question is, does the finance committee find it cost-effective to spend $8-$9 million for a temporary ramp, at the same time have a $26 million permanent ramp also being constructed? … The site visit was to show why there is a need for the ramp, what the lava had done to basically cut off the use of the existing ramp, and the need of the fishermen to fish … .”
San Buenaventura said the committee also needed to experience how long it takes to get to Pohoiki.
Fishermen have to drive from Puna to Hilo to launch their boats “and go back to the Puna waters in order to fish from the waters off of Puna,” she said.
Hilo Rep. Chris Todd, a member of the Finance Committee, said the committee tours all of the islands every year, visiting state facilities to get a sense of projects that need funding.
Pohoiki was one of several East Hawaii stops.
“I think the plans for how to make the fishing community whole have been evolving, and I think there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the initial plan put out by DLNR,” said Todd, who added that the “idea for the site visit was to first off see the current boat harbor and get a feel for where the new site will be, and the financial implication.”
Todd said the short-term option could still take 2-3 years for permitting and construction, and “if you’re looking long-term, it could take much longer.”
While there are different perspectives on what the best approach is, Todd said he would defer to area representatives.
“I don’t know how many members of the Finance Committee had been to Pohoiki,” he said. But it was “good to give them a sense of what happened and the loss in the community.”
As far as funding goes, Todd said during the legislative session “things ebb and flow so quickly” that it’s hard to get a sense of what might be funded.
“We’re going to push very, very hard in terms of our Big Island representatives,” he said. “I have a personal connection to the Puna fishing community. (I am) going all out to support Puna on this one. (We are) hoping at very least we can get the harbor dredged and get that barrier out there so we can get these guys back on the water as soon as possible.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.