LAHAINA - Mala boat ramp and the two loading docks at the West Maui boat launch facility will be closed off for about 60 days starting Oct. 14, as agreed upon at a public meeting Tuesday afternoon.
State and county officials met with commercial operators and local fishermen for a second time this month to discuss the planned closure needed to replace the boat ramp, north and south loading docks and the concrete approach leading up to the ramp.
"As you all know, the two loading docks are badly deteriorated. I'm not sure how long they're going to last," Department of Land and Natural Resources Boating Engineer Eric Yuasa said at Tuesday's meeting. "They're pretty close to being unsafe . . . They may already be unsafe."
Earlier this month, boating officials and ramp users agreed that it would be in everybody's best interest if the repairs were scheduled as soon as possible. The contractor hired for the $892,000 project, Goodfellow Bros. Inc., said that October would be the earliest time it would be able to finish planning and to start construction.
"I've got a full load for those 60 days, but keep in mind it's in our best interest to be done early too," Goodfellow Bros. project engineer Harry Kirias told ramp users at the meeting. "We're not going to just sit on our hands out there. We're going to be as interested as you are to get that work done as soon as possible."
While some boaters had suggested at the previous meeting to retain access by keeping half of the ramp open during construction, state officials said that option would pose a safety threat, interrupt barriers designed to keep debris from going into the ocean and ultimately take more time.
Under the contract, the ramp may not be closed off for more than 60 days. Kirias said he is confident the project will be completed within the allotted time.
The sectioned-off area will extend from the gated wharf area to the green shed on the northeastern side of the parking lot, Kirias said. There still will be beach access and parking stalls available at the beach.
"Most of the guys working out there on our crew will come from the Lahaina area, so it's their harbor too. They fish. They dive out there.
. . . We're all concerned about the health of the water and safety out there," Kirias said.
During the 60-day closure, commercial operators and local fishermen who normally use Mala ramp are encouraged to relocate to other harbors, like Lahaina or Maalaea.
About eight or nine commercial operators rely on Mala ramp for visitor activities like jet skiing and parasailing excursions, according to state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation officials.
Officials have been working with the activity operators to figure out ways they could continue their businesses through the two-month period.
There are three open spots left at Lahaina Harbor, the closest harbor to Mala ramp, according to State Harbor Agent Miles Lopes. However, with cruise ship season beginning in October, coordinating traffic at Lahaina Harbor will be "extremely challenging."
"The harbor is already congested," Stacy Masuda, acting Maui District manager of the state division, said at the meeting. "It's got to be turn-and-burn, a boat comes up, load and then you're off. That's the only way we're going to be able to have that much commercial activity on that dock."
She encouraged boaters to get in and out of the dock as soon as possible, returning at nighttime when the harbor is less busy to wash out their boats.
The next closest place for operators to relocate their boats and businesses would be Maalaea Harbor. Lopes did not know how many spaces were available at Maalaea.
In the meantime, all boaters were asked to help accommodate the temporary closure by moving their boats, if possible, out of Lahaina Harbor, whether to Maalaea, an offshore mooring site or on to land.
During the construction project, special permit fees will be waived, Lopes said. Such fees are usually charged to boaters who dock in a harbor other than one for which they have a permit. However, ramp fees and commercial operator fees will remain the same.
"Better sooner than later," said Mark Robinson, who operates Lahaina Harbor Water Taxi out of Mala Wharf. "It (the ramp) needs it. We have to work around it and just do what we can to help."
West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey and South and West Maui Sen. Roz Baker, who helped lobby for $223,000 in state funds for the project, also attended Tuesday's meeting.
"The pier is seriously in danger of being condemned," McKelvey said after the meeting. "We've already got the money, federal and state, if we change the premise of the project, we'll be on a waiting list. We should go (forward with construction) now, the sooner the better."
Officials expect the ramp to be "substantially complete" and open for use by Dec. 9.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.