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State moving ahead with emergency dredging of Lahaina Harbor

By Staff | Sep 29, 2011

HONOLULU — West Maui legislators last week announced that the state plans an emergency dredging of the Lahaina Harbor channel in response to boaters’ concerns.

The issue was originally raised to lawmakers and the director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources by boat operators at a DLNR Listening Session on Sept. 17 at Lahaina Intermediate School.

Boaters testified that the channel has become dangerously shallow due to sand deposited there during the March 11, 2011 Sendai tsunami and south swells during the summer.

“There’s a serious problem with the depth of the channel of Lahaina Harbor. If it doesn’t get better by natural causes, it will surely get worse,” said Robyn Speedie of America II.

According to harbor users, the sand deposited by the tsunami reduced the harbor channel entrance to a depth of about seven feet, which has caused boats to bottom out during low tide.

The sand was soft in the beginning, but recent south swells have compacted it, making it difficult for some boats to reach the entrance.

“It would be disastrous for our harbor user businesses, our visitors and folks needing to use the ferries to travel to Lanai or Molokai if the harbor were to be closed as a result of the shallow channel,” said West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker.

“It is imperative that the emergency dredging begin as soon as possible.”

Dave Jung, who operates Maui Princess, the Lahaina-Molokai ferry, said that the situation is perilous for the visitor industry.

A harbor closure would impact activity boats and Molokai residents that work in West Maui.

“The workers are very concerned, because they realize that with a good south swell, it will shoal up (at the harbor entrance) and they can’t get to work at all,” Jung said.

Baker, West and South Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey and DLNR engineers talked to Maui County Civil Defense and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye’s office about options to obtain funds and get the work done as soon as possible.

“Ultimately, it was decided that the best way to proceed was to reallocate $1,000,000 in state funding for the Lahaina ferry terminal project to the emergency dredging project, and then Senator Baker and I can go in for funding to replace that portion during the next session,” McKelvey said.

The ferry terminal project is being redesigned to address concerns by the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission. McKelvey said the reallocation shouldn’t jeopardize the terminal project, which is 80 percent federally funded.

Baker explained that DLNR submitted the project request to shift the funding to the Governor’s Office and the state Department of Budget and Finance.

The lawmakers will work to ensure that the funds are released, and try to fast-track the approval process for the dredging project.

“I feel confident that Governor Abercrombie and Budget and Finance Director Kalbert Young will assist the West Maui community and quickly release the funds for the emergency repairs once the request reaches them,” Sen. Baker noted.

“This repair will keep businesses operating, save jobs, and is important to the economy of Lahaina Town and our State. It is in keeping with the governor’s goals to move Hawaii forward.

“We know we can count on the rest of the Maui delegation, our county officials and our federal partners to support our efforts,” she concluded.

Jung said that as a Public Utilities Commission-licensed ferry operator, he felt it was his obligation to inform state and federal officials about the problem and the dangers it posed.

“I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve seen this before, and if we wait, we’ll definitely see it again,” Jung commented.

“I applaud Rep. McKelvey, Senator Baker and Senator Daniel Inouye for not only listening to our concerns, but also being so quick to act on them.”