KEKAHA — Boaters, still unsatisfied with the progress being made at Kekaha’s Kikiaola Harbor despite millions of dollars in funding from federal and state coffers, voiced their concerns in recent weeks and are waiting to hear back from organizers regarding potential mitigation steps.
At a meeting of the harbor’s boat club on Sept. 29, roughly a dozen full- and part-time fishermen who use the harbor described the “big mess,” focusing in particular on the increasing levels of sand in the inner harbor and on the boat-launch ramp.
“The boat ramp has gotten worse, the sand has gotten thicker, and a lot of the boats are not able to use the harbor at all anymore,” Kekaha fisherman Greg Holzman reiterated yesterday. “They’re having a difficult time getting their trailers out when they pull their boats out of the water because the trailers are getting stuck in the sand that’s covering the ramp.
“The users down there are all pretty frustrated. Many are unable to use the harbor and had to have a couple trucks hooked together to pull them out. It’s been quite a challenge.”
The boaters agreed across the board that the problem has worsened dramatically in the weeks since the contractors, Kiewit Pacific Company, of Kapolei, O‘ahu, removed spurs that had once formed part of the rock wall.
State Rep. Roland Sagum took those concerns to an Oct. 3 meeting with representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, which are jointly running the project.
“The corps says it’s a one-time event from the maximized buildup (of sand) breaking off with the removal of the (outer) spur,” Sagum said Monday, explaining that the engineers originally believed the pile would “blow past” the opening to the inner harbor and help mitigate erosion issues west of the harbor.
James O’Connell, Coastal Processes and Hazards Specialist for the University of Hawai‘i’s Sea Grant Program, said in an e-mail that updrift accretion and downdrift erosion are “quite typical of many major corps-type shore-perpendicular coastal engineering structures at harbors around the country.”
However, the Army Corps’ model did not accurately predict the unintended consequence of sand flowing into the harbor, and the engineers will need to again study the flows to reevaluate the justification for removing the spur and determine what steps will need to be taken to address the damage.
The Army Corps has told Sagum that it plans to first complete the project at hand before investigating the possibility of replacing the spur and believes already-planned dredging and other measures will successfully address the issue.
That plan worries users because they fear the corps, and the federal funding, will disappear when the project is completed, even if it leaves the harbor in worse shape than when it began.
“At this point, the problems that are there, that the fishermen have identified, they need to be addressed before the project is completed,” said Kekaha activist and County Council candidate Bruce Pleas. “Actually, they need to be addressed while they’re still working in that area.”
Sagum believes the Army Corps was still operating in the “spirit of cooperation” and said there is no plan to abandon the project. The parties will meet again on Oct. 17 on O‘ahu, with O’Connell present to help address the scientific issues.
A community meeting between the Army Corps and the boaters originally scheduled for Oct. 22 has been put off while the engineers continue to do research and devise a plan.
Sagum said yesterday that the Army Corps opted against following the standard procedure of closing the harbor during the improvements because it recognized the harbor is an important piece of the Westside community.
Ron Agor, a member of DLNR’s Land Board, attended the Oct. 3 meeting and asked the Army Corps to help expedite the health permit required to move the sand off of the boat ramp in the interim, which would allow boaters to continue using the harbor safely during construction instead of being forced to launch elsewhere.
“We go mainly out to Ni‘ihau and Lehua. (Port Allen Harbor) is another hour drive on top of the three- to six-hour drive we already do. That adds a lot of expense to the trip to go backwards before we go to Ni‘ihau,” explained Holzman, who lives a quarter-mile from Kikiaola Harbor and has launched there for 25 years.
“During this troubling economic time, it’s a problem if fishermen are not able to go out and get the fish for their families and pay the bills.”
Last month, Gov. Linda Lingle released an additional $1.6 million to dredge the inner harbor basin. The total projected cost for the improvement was estimated to be $28.15 million, which includes $5.96 million in state funds and $22.19 million in federal funds, according to Lingle’s statement.
Boaters seeking more information regarding the construction project and the upcoming schedule can contact Sharon Nekoba of DLNR, Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation at 587-3250 or Steven Takeguchi of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 438-1274.
• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at email@example.com