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Plans to tear down Hana pier move forward

The state Department of Transportation has begun making plans to tear down the 95-year-old old Hana pier, shown at the far end of the bay in this photo. The department says that the old pier is a safety hazard, while residents say it is a recreational area and a landmark. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The state Department of Transportation is moving forward with plans to tear down the 95-year-old condemned pier in Hana that residents say is a recreational hot spot, but that the department views as a safety hazard.

Last week, the department’s Harbors Division released a notice of its plan to begin an environmental impact statement on the pier’s removal, published in Saturday’s edition of the Office of Environmental Quality Control’s The Environmental Notice.

The department nixed plans to repair the pier in January, after strong opposition from residents who worried that a new pier would bring commercial activity to the small town.

“Hana will be changed without the pier,” Council Member Bob Carroll, who holds the East Maui residency seat, said Wednesday. “However, we do honor the community (desire to not build a new pier).”

The aging pier was built in 1921 by the Territory of Hawaii. Supported by concrete posts, the main section is about 339 feet long and 44 feet wide and runs parallel to shore, according to the department. An access trestle, about 138 feet long and 24 feet wide, connects the pier to shore. During the 1920s, transport ships hauling sugar primarily used the pier, along with passenger and cargo vessels. However, after Hana Highway opened in 1926 and people began transporting small cargo by land, the pier was used mainly for bulk good shipments. In the mid-1940s, bulk shipments declined along with sugar production in Hana, and in the late 1950s the pier was mostly used for importing fuel products.

Over the years, the pier has become a hub of social, subsistence, recreational and cultural activity. People have come to the pier to fish, to train with canoe clubs and to practice cultural protocols in honor of Queen Ka’ahumanu.

As commercial use declined, the pier eventually fell into disrepair and was condemned and fenced off in 2010. Aside from temporary repairs in 1955 and adjustments to the boat ramp in 2003, little work has been done on the rusted, crumbling pier. But fishermen and swimmers still find ways around the barriers.

“Continued unauthorized use of the pier places community members at risk of injury and presents DOT with ongoing exposure to liability,” the department stated in its notice.

The Harbors Division is proposing to remove the concrete pier and its access trestle, while leaving piles in place to avoid disturbing the coral that has grown around the piles. The project is expected to take four to six months and cost $3.5 million, according to a department estimate in January. While the work process would depend on the contractor, the general plan is to use such devices as catchment platforms under the work site, to prevent materials from falling into the water. Small deck-mounted features such as fenders and ladders, will be removed first, followed by the removal of concrete materials that will be taken away by barge for disposal or recycling.

Carroll said he wished the department could leave the pier or put in a new one, but he said he “can understand how the state would be worried” about safety and potential lawsuits.

“People are going to continue going on to the pier until they remove it,” he said.

But filmmaker Thomas Brodek, who’s lived in Hana on and off in Hana for 30 years and permanently since 2005, said he’s “heard nothing about anybody being injured on that pier.”

“For them to claim safety issues, I’m sorry, that’s ‘bureaucrap,'” Brodek said Wednesday. “I want it to be left alone. I don’t want the city or the county or the state to spend a dime.”

In January, Puni Chee, the department’s project manager for harbors modernization, said that, to his knowledge, the department didn’t have any statistics on accidents or injuries at the pier.

Hana Fire Capt. Gale Notestone also hasn’t heard of anybody getting hurt, which was “remarkable.” However, he added that “the whole structure is compromised,” and that there was always the potential for injury.

“Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen it rebuilt,” Notestone said.

Many in the community, however, were worried that a new pier built with Harbors Division money would encourage commercial activity in Hana. Because the division handles commercial harbors, it couldn’t technically prevent commercial vessels from coming to the area, department officials explained in January.

For Hana resident Bill Sides, owner of William Sides Construction, that’s what ultimately turned him off from supporting a new pier. Sides said that at first, he saw an advantage to having a pier to bring in building materials, but he didn’t want to see the harbor turn commercial.

“I guess it has to come down,” Sides said. “It’s been condemned. What else can you do?”

Brodek said that tearing down the pier would affect the scores of fishermen who flock to the pier on the weekends. However, if the department leaves the pier posts as planned, Carroll said a deck could possibly be put in to support recreational activities in the future. Notestone added that the Hana Business Council discussed putting in a breakwall with the materials from the demolished pier, which would help calm conditions in the bay for fishermen and first responders.

“We use the boat ramp with the Fire Department, and it is a challenge all the time because of the surge,” Notestone said. “I think a lot of small-boat owners feel the same way.”

Multiple requests for comment from the department’s Harbors Division were unsuccessful Wednesday.

The department’s preparation notice can be found at oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/Shared%20Documents/Environmental_Notice/2016-10-08.pdf. Under the Maui section, click “Hana Pier Deck Removal EISPN.”

The public commenting period ends Nov. 7. Comments can be sent to the Department of Transportation, Harbors Division, Project Manager Sandra Rossetter, Attn: Planning Section, 79 S. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu 96813.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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