Fastest – and cheapest – option preferred for Pohoiki ramp

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald People swim in December 2018 at the Pohoiki boat ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park in Puna.

Although the board of the Department of Land and Natural Resources discussed three options last week for restoring commercial ocean access in Puna, locals and lawmakers agree that there is only one option that makes sense.

At a Friday BLNR meeting, DLNR engineer Finn McCall presented three options for reopening the Pohoiki Boat Ramp, which was cut off from the ocean by the 2018 Kilauea lava flow. Those options ranged in cost from $2.5 million to $28 million, and in construction time from nine months to more than six years.

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However, Puna Rep. Greggor Ilagan said Monday that, for the people of Puna, there really is only one option — the option that gets the ramp reopened in the shortest amount of time.

“I want to make sure it’s that the other options aren’t what Puna needs,” Ilagan said.

The fastest — and cheapest — option McCall presented Friday was a plan to dredge the sand from the front of the boat ramp, which would take about nine months and cost $2.5 million. The other options include building a more permanent channel with jetties in front of the ramp — which would take two to three years and cost $6 million — or to build an entirely new ramp, which would take five years or more and cost $28 million.

Ilagan said his capital improvement project priorities this year include $36.5 million to reopen the boat ramp — enough to fund all three of the projects. But he added that, in order to restore one of the district’s primary economic drivers, it is imperative that the state focus on the short-term dredging solution first.

“There’s not much job creation in Puna,” Ilagan said. “This is vital both culturally and entrepreneurially, and it’s the state’s job to provide infrastructure.”

Michael Trask, president of the Hawaii Island Fishing Association, said he has long since given up on the state responding to any of Puna’s needs in a timely manner.

“Pohoiki is the No. 1 boat ramp in the state, but every time we need anything for the ramp, the state keeps throwing up these fences,” Trask said.

Without a ramp in Puna, fishermen have been forced to launch in Hilo and navigate south to Puna waters, costing both time and money. Trask said he doesn’t fish at all these days, and now operates a tug out of Hilo and Kawaihae.

Trask said the more expensive options presented at Friday’s meeting only serve to make improvements to the boat ramp seem “outlandish,” and that delays in the ramp’s reopening benefit fishing competitors on neighbor islands.

Ilagan and Trask both agreed that while the state must reopen the ramp as soon as possible, the $2.5 million solution will not be enough.

“If you dig a hole on the beach, what’s going to happen?” Trask said. “That’s what’s going to happen if you dredge the sand.”

Ilagan said the state cannot afford to repeatedly dredge the waters around the boat ramp and explained that he hopes to secure funding for at least the dredging and the channel projects, in order to get a quick solution in place to help local fishermen, with a more permanent fix in a few years.

Ilagan said the state will request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund up to 75% of any project, but added that FEMA likely will only reimburse the state after the fact, meaning it would still need to come up with the funds on its own in advance of the projects.

Last year, the state Legislature appropriated $1.5 million for a dredging project at the ramp.

Ilagan pointed out that the coastline from Hilo to Ka‘u is long enough to encompass the entire island of Oahu.

“Imagine if there were no usable boat ramps anywhere on Oahu,” Ilagan said. “That’s what this has been like for years now.”

But Trask remained pessimistic.

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“We ain’t going to get (expletive) out of (the state),” Trask said. “We’re just going to die.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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