Mala Ramp work done

After a less-than-60-day closure, West Maui’s Mala Ramp is slated to reopen to boaters this morning, state officials said.

“Our opening date officially was supposed to be the 15th (of May) at 2 p.m . . . but we just had a final inspection and walk-through yesterday,” Paul Sensano, Maui district manager for the state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said Tuesday. “It doesn’t make sense to leave it closed if the work is done.”

The ramp closed March 16 to replace the deteriorated north and south loading docks and to repair the existing boat ramp and concrete approach. Contractor Goodfellow Bros. Inc. had promised to complete the $1.1 million project within 60 days so as to minimize impacts to fishermen, boaters and commercial operators, who use the ramp regularly.

Sensano said that, as of Tuesday morning, Goodfellow Bros. still needed to remove the silt curtain and other construction equipment before the ramp would be open for use.

Sensano said he would have preferred to hold off opening the ramp until Thursday or Friday, when a traditional Hawaiian blessing could be arranged with all the parties who made the project possible, including lawmakers, construction workers and the boating community.

“I’m born and raised in Hawaii, so I understand the importance of protocol. It’s to ensure that everybody who uses that ramp has a safe launch and safe return,” Sensano said. “But once that construction equipment is gone, it’s open. If something is open, people are going to use it. They are not going to wait for kahu or kupuna to offer up a prayer in Hawaiian.”

Commercial users – especially those gearing up for thrillcraft and parasail season which starts Friday – had asked that the ramp be opened sooner rather than later so that they’d have a few extra days to get their vessels inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard or harbormaster, lawmakers said.

South and West Maui Sen. Roz Baker and West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey, who lobbied to get more than $223,000 in state funds for the project, both said they would rather open the ramp earlier than wait until a blessing could be coordinated with all the parties.

“We wanted to minimize any impact on people who make their living using that ramp, (like) the Jet Ski and parasail guys,” Baker said. “Angus (McKelvey) and I are both in Honolulu tomorrow, we didn’t want to be a reason that there was any additional delay in using the facility.”

“We just ask everybody to give it a blessing in their own way and begin to use it,” she said.

Baker said she still hopes the state will be able to coordinate a formal blessing or celebration for the opening of the ramp, but “it depends on everybody’s schedule.”

Overall, Baker said she is “delighted” that Goodfellow Bros. was able to complete the much-needed repairs within the allotted time, with a couple days to spare.

“The whole reason we took the ramp out of service was because it was falling into the ocean,” Baker said. “It was so important that we fix that facility and make it safe so that boats didn’t get torn up, and people didn’t get hurt down in that very busy area.”

McKelvey said it was the community’s efforts that pushed the project to fruition, despite initial struggles in agreeing on when the closure should be scheduled. After more than three community meetings, the decision to close the ramp beginning in March was ultimately decided by a coin toss.

“Everybody made a lot of sacrifices – the boaters, commercial guys – I appreciate everyone pulling together and seeing the need to do it right away so we don’t lose the money or anything else,” McKelvey said. “Instead of having a condemned pier that nobody could use, we have a great pier that the community will have for years to come.”

He said he also looks forward to an official blessing that focuses on traditional Hawaiian protocol rather than “a ribbon-cutting” ceremony.

There was an informal blessing held Tuesday with ti leaves tied around some of the cleats.

A spokesperson for UFO Parasailing, the only parasail tour operator that launches from Mala Ramp, said Tuesday that the company was grateful the ramp will be opening not only on time, but ahead of schedule.

“Parasailing is the life and breadth of our business,” UFO Parasailing office manager Tina Skjerseth said. “I just wanted it (the ramp) to be open on time. And it is, so they (Goodfellow Bros.) did a great job.”

She added that harbormasters were “very helpful” in helping her obtain a boat slip to continue tackle fishing and private fishing charters out of Lahaina Harbor during the 60-day closure.

About “five or six” commercial tour companies that normally operate out of Mala Wharf were given temporary permits at either Lahaina or Maalaea harbors, boating officials said.

Business for thrillcraft operators like personal watercraft and parasail companies was not directly impacted by the closure because they only are allowed to operate from May 16 to Dec. 14 – outside of whale season.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at