Expeditions moves to again run on Maalaea-Lanai route

With the approval of its request to build a new Maui-to-Lanai ferry, the operators of the only ferry service between the two islands may be closer to reinstating its Maalaea-to-Lanai route, according to documents filed with the state Public Utilities Commission.

Currently, Expeditions operates only out of Lahaina Harbor; it suspended its Maalaea service in December 2008. However, in documents supporting its application to build and fund a new vessel, Expeditions said that “the recent purchase of Lanai by Larry Ellison and his proposed construction projects on Lanai will increase the demand for charter service between Maalaea, Maui and Manele, Lanai.”

“Putting a new vessel into service would then allow Expeditions five (the newest ferry currently in the fleet) to be available for the awaited resumption of the Maalaea/Manele route,” Expeditions said in PUC documents.

Expeditions officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but a company attorney said that if the Maalaea-to-Lanai route is to be revived, the Public Utilities Commission will have to be notified. The state PUC regulates Hawaii’s water carriers.

PUC Chairwoman Hermina “Mina” Morita confirmed that Expeditions does have to come back to the PUC for approvals to reinstate its former route out of Maalaea Harbor.

Maalaea Harbor is undergoing some pier-related improvements, including those that would service a ferry system, said Eric Yuasa, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation engineer. Currently, the work on the docks and pier system for a ferry is in the design phase, Yuasa said.

In a decision issued April 16, the PUC granted a request from Hone Heke Corp., doing business as Expeditions, for the authority to enter into a contract to build a $2.5 million to $2.7 million ferry with Mavrik Marine Inc. out of La Conner, Wash.

The new vessel may be up to 74 feet long with a capacity of 149 passengers. It will meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, including updated access standards for wheelchairs and restrooms that are not found on vessels currently in service.

Expeditions intends to fund the construction by using $500,000 from the Capital Construction Fund, a federal financing mechanism, and a loan of $2 million from Bank of Hawaii.

Documents said that the new ferry could be completed between 12 to 14 months from contract approval.

In its application, the company said that its operating schedule will not be affected by the building of the new ferry.

Expeditions said if the demand for additional ferry service is there, the new ferry will allow Expeditions five, an 8-year-old ferry, to meet the construction industry transportation demands while Expeditions four, an 11-year-old ferry, will serve as a backup vessel as it reaches “the end of its productive life span.”

Expeditions has told the PUC that it already has been approached by Lanai residents and community leaders about increased passenger concerns and the ability to serve both resident and construction industry needs.

In 2012, Ellison, a billionaire and software guru, bought 98 percent of Lanai from Castle & Cooke. Since then there has been a flurry of renovations at the two luxury Lanai hotels and its golf courses as well as proposed developments on the books including a desalination system. Ellison also envisions a third resort, more housing and a second airport runway.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.