Kaua‘i Remembered: ‘Nawiliwili project’ Part 1

As compiled for the harbor project of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, 1924 as revised and rewritten in April 1928. The first mention by old timers of Nawiliwili as the harbor for Kaua‘i was in 1850 but no definite date on this project until 1881 when a Hawaiian Government survey was done by George Jackson. Teddy Roosevelt, when he was president, wanted all of the main Hawaiian Islands to have at least one deep water harbor to accommodate large warships in case of war in the pacific.

In 1909 Congress ordered a preliminary survey of Hanapepe. Also in 1909 the Corps of Engineers received a letter from Kaua‘i Territorial Senator Eric Knudsen and Representatives J.H. Coney, George Huddy and William Sheldon asking that Congress look into other harbors on Kaua‘i that might be more suitable. On March 1912 copies of reports from Major E.A. Winslow and Major W.P. Wooten of the Corps of Engineers dated Jan. 10, 1910 were sent to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington by the Secretary of War H.L. Stimson.

Extract of the report from Major Winslow are as follows: As the first preliminary to making this examination of the various harbors of the island of Kaua‘i with a view to the establishment of a port, it is necessary to consider the character of the port to be developed as there might be a number of places which could be at a small expense be rendered available for small and light-draft inter-island boats but which could not be available for regular ocean liners. This study included Hanalei, Kilauea, Anahola, Kealia, Kapa’a-Wailua, Ahukini, Nawiliwili, Koloa, Hanapepe, Hoanuanu, and Waimea. Major Winslow’s letter ends with his belief that only Nawiliwili , Koloa, and Hanapepe are worthy of more consideration. Finally Nawiliwili was chosen after the others were eliminated for various reasons. In the report Major Winslow recommends undertaking the improvement s to Nawiliwili at an expenditure of $1,086,000 for the breakwater dredging and superintendence. A bill was introduced in Congress in 1912 and in 1913 the committee recommended the deferral of this project. In 1915 members of Congress visited Kaua‘i. After this visit Hawai’i started a vigorous campaign to get the project approved and started. It was felt that Kaua‘i should shoulder some of the financial burden and agreed to finance $200,000 up front. The Hawaiian Legislature of 1917 passed a bill to loan Kaua‘i the $200,000. It was also part of the bill that this loan would lapse in 1919 if the U.S. did not approve the project. During the 1919 session the act was extended until 1921.

In the Rivers and Harbors Act of March 2nd, 1919, the appropriation was finally made. The first and major concession was that Kaua‘i would assure the US Congress that Kaua‘i would make railroad connections that would make Nawiliwili accessible to the entire southern portion of the island. The second was that the County of Kaua‘i deposit the $200,000 to the Secretary of War and thirdly, that the Territory proceed in providing rights free of charge to the U.S. all rights-of-ways and lands needed for the breakwater and harbor terminal frontage.

The borrowing capacity of the territory was exhausted by this time and the bonds were not put up for bid until 1923, at which time George Norton Wilcox purchased the entire offering of $200,000 by October of 1919 the assurance of the railroad connections would be made was assured by the major landowners involved and all the land acquisition involved in the harbor project had been completed. The breakwater was started in 1921 and by 1923, 976 feet had been completed. Now the territorial harbor board gets into the act. In 1923 heavy seas forced work to stop on the breakwater but what was already done demonstrated the benefits of the protection afforded by the calm water behind the completed portion. Another small hitch was the securing of riparian rights of those lands which would be cut off from the ocean when the harbor was completed. Since Mr. Wilcox owned most of the land involved, this question was soon resolved.

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