Work to reopen the blocked Pohoiki Boat Ramp could begin at the end of 2022 — at the earliest.
During a Tuesday meeting of the County Council Committee on Governmental Operations, Relations and Economic Development, Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz discussed with representatives of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources the status of the long-awaited project to reopen the ramp, which was blocked by sand during the 2018 Kilauea eruption.
Finn McCall, engineer for the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, told the committee that the current estimate for completion of the project is at least 24 months from now.
Because the DLNR is seeking a funding match from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — whereby FEMA could contribute up to 75% of the $3.5 million project cost — the DLNR must submit an environmental assessment to FEMA, which McCall said could be completed within 6-9 months.
Subsequently, the design and permitting phase would take an additional nine months after the assessment is approved.
McCall said the project will involve dredging about 15,000 cubic yards of sand from around the ramp, allowing boats to access the ocean again.
Once the sand is dredged, the DLNR will place “marine mattresses” — effectively gravel contained within a metal mesh — along the edges of the newly created channel to prevent it from collapsing or eroding.
That process will take another nine months, McCall said, placing the final project completion date at about the middle of 2023.
DLNR First Deputy Director Bob Masuda said FEMA also requires the DLNR to investigate possible alternatives for the project, including potentially building an entirely new boat ramp.
However, he said an alternate ramp would add millions of dollars and several more years to the project, and is not a practical consideration.
“I don’t know why they’re making us do this, when we know the only option is Pohoiki,” Masuda said.
The Pohoiki ramp was the only boat ramp between Hilo and Milolii, and therefore represented an essential artery for Puna fishermen, many of whom have stopped fishing entirely because they cannot afford to launch in Hilo and cruise down to Puna waters.
Kierkiewicz said she was glad to have more concrete information about the project, but pointed out that McCall’s time frame means the ramp will reopen nearly five years after its closure.
Masuda said that DLNR, having now received its instructions from FEMA, will try to expedite the process as much as possible, but added that the department has “been trying our damnedest to get this done for years.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@Hawaiitribune-herald.com.