An investigation into whether alterations to the Hilo Bay breakwater can improve the bay’s water quality might still go forward next month despite COVID-related disruptions.
A $100,000 study of the breakwater’s impacts on the bay’s water quality has been in various phases of planning for more than a year, with funding split between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — who are contributing $50,000 to the project — Hawaii County and the state Department of Transportation, which are each contributing $25,000.
The project was anticipated to begin in October of this year, which still appears to be the plan despite possible hiccups caused by the pandemic. Mayor Harry Kim said Tuesday that, at the very least, the study will begin before the end of this year.
However, the project could be more costly for the county than initially expected. Arnold Liu, planning engineer for the Department of Transportation’s Harbors Division, said nearly every state department is reviewing their planned expenditures in the face of a $2 billion budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should the state’s $25,000 contribution to the project end up on the chopping block, the county will have to make up those funds itself, Liu said.
But Kim assured the Tribune-Herald that he is prepared for such a possibility.
“If that comes to be, I will appeal to the council to secure those funds without hesitation,” Kim said.
Less than half an hour after saying that, Kim said he spoke with the county Planning Department, asking them to develop a contingency plan for finding the extra $25,000 if necessary.
Kim said the study has the potential to revitalize Hilo’s economy if it uncovers a way to improve the bay’s water quality. While the century-old breakwater was built to shield ships in the bay from rough waves, the structure also is believed to be trapping sediment from the Wailuku and Wailoa rivers within the bay.
A 2009 study by the Corps of Engineers suggested that a breach in the breakwater would improve water circulation within the bay. The 2020 study is intended to determine how great an improvement that would make.
“Hilo Bay could be the most beautiful place on God’s Earth,” Kim said, adding that improved water quality will increase the amount of marine life — and with it, visitor appeal — within the bay.
Kim said the breakwater study is one of his last big projects to get out of the door before leaving office at the end of the year.
“I know my time here is very short, but this (breakwater) will be around for a long time,” Kim said.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.