Despite having to relocate their businesses to Lahaina and Maalaea harbors after Mala Wharf closed for repairs March 16, boaters and commercial tour operators say business is still "on par."
"Our staff is putting in a lot more extra hours, but in terms of what clients are seeing it's seamless," said Erik Stein, who has owned and operated Extended Horizons scuba charters out of Mala Wharf for more than 25 years.
When the state Department of Land and Natural Resources closed Mala ramp for much-needed repairs last month, Stein and "five or six" other tour companies that normally operate out of Mala Wharf were given temporary permits at either Lahaina or Maalaea harbor.
Midway through the 60-day closure at Mala Wharf on the west side, construction was well underway Wednesday to replace two concrete loading docks and parts of the boat ramp.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The $1.1 million repair project required the entire area to be closed off until May 16. Commercial tour operators have been issued temporary permits at Lahaina and Maalaea harbors. Work began about a month ago.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Stein said that he hired an extra employee to help haul the dive tanks and gear back and forth every day from the office to the boat, which is now docked at Lahaina Harbor.
He said that even though employees have to work longer hours now, the DLNR and Maui harbormasters have been very helpful in making sure the businesses that operated out of Mala stay afloat. He, like other boaters and state officials, believe that the ramp and loading docks at Mala were in danger of collapsing.
"It needed to be done sooner rather than later," Stein said of the ramp closure. "I think we waited til the last possible minute, (the loading docks) were about to fall in the water."
He added that from what he's seen of the repairs so far - just halfway into the 60-day construction period - the new ramp "is going to be great when it opens."
Officials with DLNR's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation said that so far the repair project is on schedule, and the ramp still is slated to reopen by May 16, just in time for the start of "parasail season," a seven-month period during which thrillcraft operators are permitted.
"From the correspondences we've had, everything is moving forward as expected," said DOBOR Maui District Manager Paul Sensano, who is based on Oahu.
Most boaters and commercial tour operators have been understanding about the temporary relocation, Lahaina Harbor Agent Daniel McKinley said.
"At first, there was more concern that it (Mala ramp) was going to be shut down . . . but for most boaters it's a bit of an inconvenience, but they're still able to make their income out of Lahaina," McKinley said.
There have been impacts, including slightly more traffic at the already busy harbors, more use of and pressure on the offshore moorings and some fishermen having to unload and load their boats without docking, but so far it's been "pretty mild."
"Everybody's been getting along," McKinley said.
Mark Robinson, owner of Island Star Excursions, which used to operate a private charter out of Mala Wharf, has since had to pull his 34-foot-long Scarab boat out of the water and transport it to Maalaea every time he has a private charter booked.
He also operates snorkel tours from two small boats docked in Lahaina Harbor that he now has to drive to Maalaea - instead of just up the road to Mala Wharf - every two weeks for maintenance.
There is a ramp at Lahaina Harbor, but it only is to be used for emergencies, the harbor agent said.
Robinson said that even though towing his boats to and from Maalaea has been "a pain in the ass," he knows the closure of Mala ramp was a "necessary evil."
"I'm supportive of them rebuilding and repairing it. . . . It's cost me (time) and vehicle costs for towing (the boats), but other than that I'm all right. I work around everything," Robinson said.
The $1.1 million replacement project will demolish and replace two concrete loading docks and make other repairs to the boat ramp.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.