DLNR plans to dredge existing Pohoiki boat ramp to reopen access to ocean

  • Tribune-Herald file photo People swim in the pond at the Pohoiki boat ramp in December 2018 at Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources wants to dredge the landlocked Pohoiki boat ramp to re-establish ocean access in Puna.

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, which subsequently has impacted their livelihoods.

In May, the DLNR said it was working to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study of potential locations for a new ramp.

DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation Engineer Finn McCall said Wednesday, however, that the department decided to defer the feasibility study and preparation of an environmental impact statement for the construction of a new boat ramp, and instead will focus its efforts on dredging.

“Since the project is considered maintenance/restoration of an existing facility, we will be issuing an (environmental assessment) exemption declaration,” he said in an emailed statement.

McCall did not indicate a timeline for the project.

According to McCall, the dredging project will use $1.5 million previously appropriated by the state Legislature in the current fiscal year budget and will supplement it with funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover construction costs.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said the state is working with Limtiaco Consulting on engineering and design.

“My understanding is it’s phase one of the project,” she said, adding that the state is finalizing a contract to conduct the dredging before moving into design and bidding.

“We’ll see what happens,” Kierkiewicz said. “My understanding is phase two is hardening the area so it’s less susceptible for the sand to fill in the channel again.”

Kierkiewicz said she’s hopeful because there’s now a solution that’s being acted upon.

“It’s not just theoretical anymore,” she said.

“Any progress is better than no progress,” said state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura of Puna about the effort.

News that the DLNR will try dredging is “hopeful,” she said, “so fishermen can at least go back into the water and earn a living, especially during this time.”

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San Buenaventura said she hopes this effort becomes a long-term solution, “because I do know, fiscally, the state government is not going to be able to afford major funding projects that are not shovel ready at this time because of the (COVID-19) crisis.”

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