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Aging Hana pier beyond restoration

Removal may not happen until 2021

Removal of the deteriorating Hana pier, which has been in the works since 2016, may not take place until 2021, according to the project’s final environmental impact statement.

The state Department of Transportation has said the aging pier is beyond repair, but longtime residents don’t want to lose a site that’s become a hotspot for fishing, swimming and cultural practices.

The final EIS for the pier’s removal was published Friday in the Office of Environmental Quality Control’s “The Environmental Notice.”

Plans call for removing the pier deck and access trestle, but leaving existing piles in place to avoid disturbing coral that has colonized the piles. The project is expected to take six months at a cost of $3.5 million.

For the Hana community, it’s a Catch-22: demolishing the pier means losing a landmark; repairing it means the pier could potentially be used for commercial activity. The pier is under the Harbors Division, which oversees commercial harbors and technically couldn’t prevent commercial activity if it used state funds to fix the pier, then-Director Ford Fuchigami explained in 2016.

The pier was built in 1921 by the Territory of Hawaii and owned by the Board of Harbor Commissioners, according to the final EIS. The main pier section runs parallel to shore and is 339 feet long and just under 44 feet wide.

During the 1920s, ships primarily used the pier to haul sugar from an upland mill. But as Hana Highway opened in 1926 and sugar production ceased in Hana in the mid-1940s, commercial activity declined.

Over the years, the pier has deteriorated but has still served as a gathering place for the community to fish, swim, train for paddling competitions and follow cultural protocols honoring Queen Ka’ahumanu, who was born in a cave along the bay.

In 1991, the pier was transferred to the state Department Land of Natural Resources’ Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. A 1999 inspection revealed that the pier had corroded reinforcing bars, cracks in the concrete and various sections chipped away. A cost analysis at the time concluded that the pier was “beyond economic repair,” according to the EIS. The structure was condemned, and a fence barring public access was built sometime between 2002 and 2004.

In the hopes of repairing the pier, state lawmakers transferred it into the care of the state Department of Transportation’s Harbors Division in 2008, which would have allowed the pier access to $20 million for repairs. However, that funding lapsed in 2012.

In 2016, the department announced that it would demolish the pier, based on feedback from the community. In a survey to nearly 750 Hana residents, 103 respondents said they opposed improving the pier and allowing commercial operations, while 61 were in favor of improvements and allowing commercial operations.

The state decided to tear down the pier as a way of “simultaneously respecting the Hana community’s opposition to commercial use” while addressing “what could be a public safety hazard that places the state at legal risk,” according to the final EIS.

“Due to the age and progressive deterioration of the pier, it is beyond maintenance repair for any use,” interim department Director Jade Butay wrote in response to letters of concern from the community.

However, community members wrote letters imploring the state save the pier, pointing out its historical, cultural and social importance.

“The pier is an important staple in the community,” Hana High School 9th-grader Kiana Ahkoi wrote. “Kids and teens jump off of it for fun. Many people have sentimental memories attached to it. Community members also fish off of it. While you may be correct about the possibility of a safety and liability issue, there are alternatives to tearing it down.”

Hana resident Mavis Oliveira-Medeiros wrote that “to demolish something so used by the community would be a great sin.”

However, Butay said the Department of Transportation can’t rebuild the pier strictly for recreational and subsistence uses.

“The pier cannot be left in its current unsafe state while under our jurisdiction, and we cannot reconstruct it if there is no valid (Harbors Division) purpose,” he wrote.

Others suggested transferring the pier back under the Department of Land and Natural Resources. But Ed Underwood, administrator of the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said in a May 2017 memo that the division does not support the transfer, as it “provides no benefit or amendment to DOBOR’s existing facilities at its Hana Boat Ramp.”

However, the project to remove the pier still has a number of hurdles to get through. If Gov. David Ige approves the final EIS, the design and permitting process would begin, which typically takes about three years. If funding is available, the project would start around 2021. In 2017, state lawmakers set aside $3.7 million in the state’s 2018-19 budget to remove the pier.

To view the full EIS, visit oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/EA_EIS_Library/2018-06-08-MA-FEIS-Hana-Pier-Deck-Removal.pdf

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

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