Hawaii County Council members joined a growing list of elected officials calling for government support for Young Brothers to resume regular intra-state shipping.
During Wednesday’s council meeting, members discussed a resolution that would urge the state Public Utilities Commission and Young Brothers to find ways to resume full cargo service to the Big Island after the shipping company made cuts to its shipping schedule in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, who co-introduced the resolution, said businesses around the island are struggling to remain open because supplies are arriving less frequently, and — for better or worse — the island’s economy depends on the continued financial health of Young Brothers.
The company has been struggling to remain afloat. Not only did 21 shipping containers fall from a Young Brothers barge north of Hilo Harbor last month, but the company informed the state Legislature in May that it would require $25 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds in order to remain solvent through the end of the year.
Richards noted that a pair of bills in the Legislature were aimed at providing relief and subsidies for marine transport companies, but neither panned out: one bill was deferred while the other technically remains active, but with the legislative session ending Friday it is effectively dead as well.
Instead, Richards said the key to Young Brothers’ salvation might come from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Marine Highways program, which provides federal resources to aid in moving cargo through the country’s commercial waterways. As of 2018, the waters around and between the Hawaiian Islands were designated Marine Highways.
“I think we can find a long-term solution somewhere within that program,” Richards said. “But we need support to continue that conversation.”
Richards advised his fellow council members — who voted unanimously in support of the resolution — to lobby the state’s congressional delegation and the PUC to “drum up support” for aid via the Marine Highways program.
While some council members lamented the state’s crippling dependence on Young Brothers — Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said it highlights the state’s need to pursue self-sustaining food production — they agreed that regular interisland shipping will be essential for restoring the state’s economy post-pandemic.
“I hate to say it, but if they ever go out of business, then we are, no pun intended, sunk,” said Council Chairman Aaron Chung of Hilo.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.