Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024|
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Long-awaited repairs to the Laupahoehoe Boat Ramp have been funded, but more steps are necessary before work can begin.
The deteriorating boat ramp has been sorely in need of restoration for years, because the pounding surf has worn away much of its concrete and exposed rebar, which could damage any boat launching from the site.
With the ramp officially closed by the county since 2009, and with fishermen lacking any other place to launch from in Hamakua, Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said last year that repairing the ramp would be a priority.
And on Wednesday, Messina confirmed the county has allocated $5 million for a ramp restoration project.
Messina said the project will be an “overall replacement” of the ramp, but added there is still no estimate for when construction might begin.
“We haven’t finished the scoping process yet,” Messina said, saying a contractor to develop a design for the ramp repairs hasn’t been selected.
The project also might require environmental assessments depending on those designs, Messina said, which would push back the start of construction.
For safety reasons, Messina said the county also is conducting an emergency procurement process to cut free the exposed rebar on the ramp. Despite the ramp being officially closed — although locals can and do still launch boats from there — it is a popular place for people to swim.
Part of the reason for the ramp’s current state is due to the poor condition of the adjacent Laupahoehoe breakwater. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the seawall’s maintenance, has estimated that it only performs its intended function about 65% of the time, with large waves regularly passing through the structure.
Messina said that once the boat ramp is restored, it should be safe to use even with the breakwater in its current state. That’s good news for ramp users, because the Corps has estimated any upgrades to the breakwater are at least years away.
The Corps previously estimated repairing the seawall would cost $8 million, but Army engineers earlier this year discovered coral is growing on the breakwater pilings. The presence of the coral will require coral mitigation measures, which in turn require more studies, up to $32 million more in funding, and potentially up to 20 more years of waiting.
Bob Duerr, a member of the county’s Game Management Advisory Commission, said that notwithstanding the ramp’s current condition, the state of the breakwater makes it usable in an “experts only” capacity: Those with local knowledge can probably launch a boat with little difficulty, so long as the surf isn’t too rough.
While Duerr said he is glad money is available for the ramp repairs, he added that an ideal design for the ramp would be dual-purpose, leaving in an area for visitors to safely swim without impeding boats launching or returning.
“As it is now, the ramp is being used like a gymnasium,” Duerr said. “But with gyms, people don’t go and come back so they can feed their families.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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