LAHAINA - The Nov. 7 Mala Wharf shutdown meeting started off with the harbor agents and the contractor stating that Jan. 6, 2014 would be the start of the process, and all the materials would be on-island by then. This date was contested by the operators using the ramp because of whale season.
In a 60-day, $892,000 improvement project, the existing Mala Wharf concrete loading docks will be replaced, as well as a portion of the launch ramp and approach to the ramp. Parking lot and related improvements are also slated.
The original October date was postponed - first because all the materials were not on-island at that time. Second, the 60-day proposed work schedule would have also impacted the peak mid-December to January holiday season for all operators using the ramp, and they requested it be postponed until after that time.
A few of the boats had already scheduled the original October-November shutdown to do maintenance and take vacation time, to get ready for the busy holiday season and the start of whale season beginning Dec. 15.
After several dates were discussed, with the flip of a coin, the deciding date to shut down Mala ramp was called for March 17. This date is still during the peak of the whale watch season, but not as bad as during January and February.
During whale season, the 40-plus commercial whale watch boats from Mala and Lahaina Harbor operate trips every two hours, 4-5 times a day, seven days a week. Most of the boats have the same departure and return schedules. Plus, every other private recreational boat that can possibly get out on the water will also be doing whale watches.
Things are going to get ugly in Lahaina Harbor. Harbors says that it can handle the extra traffic congestion. It is going to be a nightmare that the harbor has never experienced.
With all the boats vying for space on the loading dock, and a few designated slips for some Mala operators, some of the boats will be forced to go into any vacant slip they can find to load and unload their passengers. This will cause passengers to get more confused trying to find their boat, plus tie up dock and slip space waiting on passengers that are lost or late, causing the boats to leave late and further slowing up the process.
One Mala company I talked to will have up to 50 people on his two boats every two hours. That's 150-200 people per day and at least 25 cars per trip. He mentioned that he may have to hire more people just to run around the harbor and look for his people. Multiply that by a dozen or more Mala boats every day.
Parking for all the additional cars and people in Lahaina Harbor is another major problem. Where are they going to park? There is already no parking in the area, with the normal Lahaina Harbor charter fishing, dive and whale watch boats, and their passengers and crew.
The harbor parking lot is small and "permit only" for harbor users; who is going to monitor it? It will keep DLNR busy writing tickets, further upsetting the tourists.
Plus, there will be the cruise boat tenders that will be taking up the north side of the loading dock, further limiting space to be used by the additional boats.
As of now, there are seven cruise boats coming in March, 13 in April and five in May. With the new Homeland Security harbor rules in effect, the north side fuel dock will be closed during cruise boat days (available if allowed). It has the only gas pump available, needed by some of the whale watch boats, further slowing down the process.
Stay tuned to see how this horror movie plays out.