Surfers: Be cautious when building ferry pier

Lahaina harbor project set to begin Sept. ’19

A surfer carries her board at Lahaina Small Boat Harbor in this photo taken earlier this month. Surfers have a petition calling for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Recreation to exercise care and not disrupt their surf spots as it builds a new ferry dock at the harbor. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Surfers are asking the state to exercise caution during the upcoming construction of the new Lahaina Small Boat Harbor ferry pier, which is expected to start in September 2019, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Plans call for building a new pier 70 feet north of the existing one. It would measure 115 feet long and 20 feet wide and be able to accommodate about 100 passengers, as well as ferry traffic between Lanai and Maui, cruise ship tenders and commercial and recreational vessels. A low-rise, open-sided structure on the deck also would provide shade for pier users, and a grate-covered gangway would be built to connect the new pier to the existing one.

Plans also include:

• Installing a sewage pump-out station with hose bibs, security lighting and water and sewer utilities.

• Replacing the existing harbor administration office.

A surfer rides a wave just outside Lahaina Breakwall, a prime surfing spot.

• Improving the passenger loading and drop-off area, as well as the sidewalk along a portion of Hotel Street and a portion of Wharf Street.

The project is expected to cost $13 million and be completed by March 2021.

In the project’s final environmental impact statement, approved in 2014, the department said that the existing pier was the only transportation hub on Maui for interisland ferry service to Molokai and Lanai. The pier also handled loading and unloading for cruise ship tenders, tour boats and recreational vessels, and the department predicted it would be “unable to efficiently and safely support the current level and anticipated future level of usage.”

While the Molokai ferry shuttered in 2016, the department’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation said that “there is still a need for the ferry pier” even without it.

“The ferry pier is necessary to alleviate congestion and improve safety for vessels entering and exiting the harbor,” division engineer Finn McCall said Tuesday.

McCall said the new ferry pier “will not interfere with or affect the existing Harbor and Breakwater surf spots” and added that access to the spots “will be available throughout the project.”

That’s been a concern of the Surfrider Foundation Maui Chapter, which started a petition to ensure the protection of nearby surf spots during the project. The petition, posted about a month ago, had amassed more than 1,700 signatures as of Tuesday. It points out that the harbor is already “jam-packed” with cruise ships, commercial and private boats.

“Surfers at Harbor cherish the spectacular A-Frame wave that churns barrels, walls and lines toward the boat channel,” the petition said. “Lahaina Breakwall on the other side of the channel entrance is an absolute gem, and easily the most surfed wave in west side.”

Andrew O’Riordan, chairman of the foundation, said earlier this month that “everyone in West Maui has a Lahaina Harbor story, and all of us enjoy this spot — surf teams, keiki, surf competitors, weekend warriors and everyone in between.”

“Surfrider Foundation is not opposed to this project,” O’Riordan said. “Smart growth is our guiding light. We want to ensure that engineers, government organizations, and the Army (Corps of Engineers), whether Wailuku, Honolulu or D.C., don’t overlook or forget how precious, special and sacred this surf zone is to the Hawaiian watersports community.”

So far, O’Riordan is satisfied with how the state and the Army Corps of Engineers have handled the plans, but the petition is a precautionary measure “to ensure that the cultural, recreational and social value of the Lahaina harbor reef remains fundamental to the implementation of this pier expansion.”

“There has been diligence, care and holistic thinking running through many phases of the project,” he said. “All of this said, we all must remain vigilant, because as bureaucratic as this process and project may be, it’s also human, which means there is room for error, and we need to ensure that the Lahaina harbor recreational surf zone doesn’t pay the price for any mistakes.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at