Land Board hears three options for Pohoiki ramp restoration

  • 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)

Restoration of the Pohoiki boat ramp could take months — or even years.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday received updates on three possible restoration options that vary in time and cost.

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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 — who now have to launch from Hilo and boat back to Puna waters — to easily access the ocean, which subsequently has impacted their livelihoods.

Finn McCall, engineer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, presented the reopening options, which include:

• Excavation and dredging — This option calls for removing approximately 15,000 cubic yards of sand by dredging or excavation and placing that sand back on the beach. The cost of this option is estimated at $2.5 million and the construction timeline is around nine months.

• Entrance channel improvements — A possible follow-up to dredging and excavation, this option calls for the installation of permanent structures to protect the entrance channel as well as a new swim area. Construction costs are estimated at $6 million and has a 2-3 year construction timeline.

• New boat ramp facility — This option calls for the construction of a new boat ramp facility on the new lava flow on the north side of Pohoiki Bay, pending the availability of funds, as well as the construction of a new breakwater structure, new boat ramp and loading dock, trailer turn-around and parking area. Construction costs are estimated at $28 million and could take 5-6 years, or longer.

According to a DLNR news release, all of the options require varying levels of environmental review and are all dependent on funding.

DOBOR, however, plans to apply for a funding match from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which might contribute 75% of construction costs, DLNR said.

Friday’s presentation was for informational purposes only and the Land Board did not take any action.

But written testimony submitted to the board supported restoration efforts.

“The closure of Pohoiki has had profound impacts on our local fishing community — both commercial and subsistence — leaving Puna fishermen facing extreme financial hardships,” Puna state Rep. Greggor Ilagan wrote. “It goes beyond just the fishing industry — the consensus of the district is we need a fix to make the ramp usable as soon as possible.”

Pohoiki remains a premiere fishing spot and is invaluable to the district, he continued.

“The only viable option I see is to fix the existing ramp.”

Commercial fisherman Carl Okamoto said in submitted testimony that the ramp should be opened without further delay.

Detailing the impacts of having to launch out of Hilo, Okamoto said “the bottom line is that with the doubling of expenses and reduction of fishing time, with the reduced revenue, we can hardly survive out of Hilo.”

“Pohoiki was like our second home,” wrote Tony Sylva, who said in his submitted testimony that he has fished out of Pohoiki since he was a child.

Sylva said he normally fished every day for 2-4 hours. Some extended trips would last for two days.

“With no Pohoiki, I have to launch out of Hilo,” he wrote. “My two-hour trips are now four days. I could be at the fishing grounds in minutes launching from Pohoiki; now it’s a minimum of four hours from Hilo to Pohoiki.”

Expenses have also increased.

Sylva said his trips used to cost between $120 and $250, but now cost a minimum of $500 and can go up to $800. Maintenance costs for his boat have quadrupled.

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“I can no longer go on single-day trips because it is not affordable,” he wrote. “I have to take four-day trips at a time. Now I don’t see my girls for days because I have to make my trips count in order to make it worthwhile. My girls don’t go out on the boat anymore because I don’t trust taking them far out.”

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

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