Initial funds released for Puna boat ramp

  • In this 2018 file photo people swim in the pond at the boat ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park, also known as Pohoiki beach park, in Puna. (Tribune-Herald file photo)

Gov. David Ige has released $500,000 in state funding that will be used for planning and feasibility studies for the possible restoration of 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.

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The closure has affected the ability of Puna fishermen — who now have to launch from Hilo and boat back to Puna waters — to easily access the ocean and subsequently has impacted their livelihoods.

“Basically, I’m hoping now that the money is released, we could have a realistic cost analysis and timeline analysis on how much and how soon we can rehab the Pohoiki boat ramp,” state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura of Puna said. “It seems to me that is where the fishermen, through our community meetings, would like to have the ramp be situated rather than anywhere else (on) the Puna coast.”

An engineering study released last June by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources 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.

Last August, however, the department’s 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.

Dan Dennison, a spokesman for the DLNR, said in November that a proposed short-term solution involves driving sheet piles on either side of the existing boat ramp entrance channel and dredging the channel. At that time, the cost was estimated to be between $8 million and $9 million.

Dennison also said in November that a long-term solution for access was to build a new boat ramp facility on the north side of Pohoiki Bay.

Now that the governor has released the funds, “DLNR is beginning the process of determining how best to proceed in consultation with the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, engineering and the U.S. Corps of Engineers,” Dennison said in an email Tuesday.

The funds will also be used explore alternative sites for a new boat ramp at different locations, he said.

“It’s good that the money is released so (DLNR) can keep moving forward with their analysis and decision making process,” state Sen. Russell Ruderman of Puna said.

He hopes the department will decide to repair the existing boat ramp, which he believes could be done faster and for less money than building another boat ramp.

For most people, having a boat ramp sooner is better, Ruderman said. It also would allow Puna to restore economic activity with fishing and sightseeing as well as restore recreational ocean access.

“That would be a real step toward disaster recovery, if we could restore that boat ramp.”

San Buenaventura said she hopes “the short-term plan actually becomes long-term. I am hoping they come up with a plan that will expedite a potentially permanent solution.”

San Buenaventura said she has requested further funding for Pohoiki as part of the Capital Improvement Project priorities in the House budget.

Ruderman also introduced Senate Bill 2471, which would allocate $8 million to the DLNR for the Puna boat ramp, but that bill has not been heard by committee.

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“Puna lawai‘a play a critical role in feeding our community and supporting local economy,” County Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz of Puna said. “Since Resolution 218-19 passed the council last summer, lawai‘a, county and state stakeholders have made it a point to continuously engage and keep each other apprised of forward momentum. I’m grateful the governor has released funds to help accelerate the design and permitting needed to restore a boat ramp in Puna, a key asset that will help with our island’s recovery, food sustainability and overall resilience.”

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

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