It's on us. Share your news here.

Dredging of Wailoa Small Boat Harbor on track

A boater brings his boat into the Wailoa Small Boat Harbor while a man plays with his dogs in Hilo on Wednesday, March 13, 2024.

Posted on March 25, 2024

HILO, Hawai‘i — Lawmakers and boaters hope for smooth sailing at the Wailoa Small Boat Harbor in Hilo, as a long-awaited dredging project inches closer toward beginning.

The harbor, one of East Hawai‘i’s last functioning boat launches after the closure of the Pohoiki Boat Ramp during the 2018 eruption, has gone undredged for more than seven years, leading to a dangerous buildup of sediment in the harbor mouth that has substantially reduced the facility’s usability.

Boater Leilehua Yuen said her late father’s boat has been stuck in the harbor for more than five years, and went aground at least three times attempting to pass the mouth of the Wailoa River — multiple times at high tide, no less.

“Once was midway through ebb-tide,” Yuen said via email “For several years, he could only go in and out at highest tide, which meant that if we took the boat out, we could not come back for either 12 or 24 hours. Since then, he went aground twice at high tide.

“For the past five years, we have been trapped in the basin, and could not take the boat out at all,” Yuen continued. “This winter’s storms have now made the harbor impassable for many other vessels, as well. This also means that boats needing to seek refuge in the basin from storms cannot come in to safe harbor.”

Thanks to $3.2 million in capital improvement funds allocated for the dredging during last year’s state budget cycle, some of the harbor’s woes are on track to be fixed later this year, although Hilo Sen. Lorraine Inouye said she is disappointed at the pace of the work.

“It shouldn’t have gotten this far,” Inouye said. “The burden is now on the public, on the boaters who have to deal with this problem.”

Inouye said she has been in constant contact with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR), as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in attempts to expedite the dredging. However, she said the project is not anticipated to begin before July, which she said is too long for users to wait.

DOBOR Administrator Ed Underwood said the Army Corps of Engineers has appointed consultants who are currently conducting surveys to determine the scope of the dredging necessary. Once those surveys are completed, and permit applications are finalized and submitted, contractors will be hired to carry out the actual dredging, Underwood said.

How long the dredging project will take will depend upon the results of the survey.

Although Underwood noted that DOBOR has “been asking for funding for this for years,” Inouye said that Hilo boaters can ill afford such essential work to be put off for years at a time, particularly when Hawai‘i Island fishermen are more limited than ever in where they can launch from.

To that end, Inouye touted Senate Bill 2156, a measure she introduced this legislative session that would allocate funds to the DLNR for a scheduled program of maintenance dredges and other necessary work at all of the state’s small boat harbors and launches.

“It seems we only get these dredges to happen every few years, but it needs a consistent process,” Inouye said.

The Senate Committee on Water and Land, which Inouye chairs, voted Thursday to pass SB 2156 with little discussion, although she told the Tribune-Herald funding could still be hard to come by this year thanks to ongoing budget pressures from the Lahaina Fire. Consequently, the bill does not include a specific dollar amount in its current form.

In the event that no additional funding is available, Inouye said she hopes the bill can still pass and establish a framework for a future schedule of maintenance work.

She added the DLNR could potentially establish a pilot program for a single island, and posited that between Wailoa, Pohoiki, Kawaihae and other facilities, Hawaii Island should be the prime candidate for such an enterprise.

“I just feel sorry for the people whose careers depend on being able to use these harbors,” Inouye said.


It's on us. Share your news here.
Submit Your News Today

Join Our
Click to Subscribe