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VIDEO: Issues Loom at
Lahaina Harbor Following Tsunami

Updated 07:06 AM HST, September 19, 2011
Posted 12:22 PM HST, September 18, 2011

By Wendy Osher

Several mariners are seeking help to address issues with the depth of the channel at Lahaina Harbor, attributing the problem of sand deposits to the surge from the March 11, 2011 tsunami and subsequent swells.

“We had huge, probably 50 mile per hour surge,” said David Jung, a long-time manager for a ferry system between Maui and Molokai. “All of the water that came over the reef from Mala all the way down to Lahaina–that all filled up and that harbor surge went shooting right out the channel, and it re-deposited acres of sand and broken coral,” said Jung.

Jung was among more than 75 people who attended a weekend meeting of the Department of Land and Natural Resources at the Lahaina Intermediate School on Saturday morning. He joined several other mariners in asking for emergency funds to dredge the harbor for safe passage of vessels.

William Aial Jr., Chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources heard testimony from Maui residents at two meetings on the Valley Isle over the weekend. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Jung said the last surf episode about seven weeks ago moved that sand even further, creating a bar across the channel that measures seven feet high at low-tide. He estimated that there are six vessels that draw more than seven feet in addition to numerous visiting vessels.

“This last labor day race, we had a bunch of sail boats get stuck,” said Jung.

In addition to the loss and the damage to vessels and potential environmental impacts, Jung said there’s a greater concern for injury or loss of life to passengers and crew.

DLNR Chair William Aila Jr. said, “I can understand your determination, your feeling that this is an emergency,” but he stated, there are no emergency funds available to jump on the project tomorrow.

Lahaina Harbor, photo by Wendy Osher.

“The boating special fund is something that is right at operating levels right now, so there is no cushion there. I can tell you that we will exhaust all possible abilities, but it may take a while before we can address the situation at Lahaina Harbor. As I said, in the interim, we would be looking at creative methods, possibly allowing tendering, until the situation is dealt with.”

Jung said dredging was performed by the state between the 1970s and 1989, and asked that the state resume dredging to fix the problem.

One of the deep-draft boat operators who testified at the Lahaina meeting said he kept bumping into the sand bar until he created a path deep enough to go through.

Break out sessions were held to discuss Maui issues in further detail with DLNR officials and Maui legislators. Photo by Wendy Osher.

“I’ve heard people talk about capital improvements to the harbor and I see this more as an emergency caused by a natural disaster–the same as if the runway had been shortened at the airport,” the testifier said. “They wouldn’t wait and say it’s a capital improvement for the airport to make the runway so that jumbo jets could once again land.”

Aila said the Department understands the seriousness and safety issues, but advised boaters to use caution as well. “If you know there is a safety issue right now, a prudent mariner–knowing that there’s a sand bar there–is not going to cross it and risk getting stuck.”

“Let’s work on some reasonable solutions in the interim. Let’s look at ways to authorize the ferrying of passengers for vessels that shouldn’t go through the channel because of the physical constraints that are there because of natural conditions. So that I offer to you as a temporary solution,” said Aila.

David Jung. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Boaters were able to break off into working groups to discuss the matter in further detail with various department officials and government leaders who were in attendance.

A similar session was held in Wailuku at Maui Waena Intermediate School later in the day in which issues were raised over axis deer populations, protection programs for the Native Hawaiian Monk Seal, water management in Waihee, and protection of historical sites.

Both meetings were hosted by State Senate President Shan Tsutsui of Maui with the assistance of fellow Senator Donovan DelaCruz of District 22.

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  • Fed Up Ferdinand

    Once again West Maui harbors are given the short shrift by DLNR. All commercial boaters should withhold their compulsory 3% fee on every transaction made in Harbors until the emergency funds are found. Better yet the California company Pacific Fuels who has the only concession to sell fuel at Lahaina Harbor and does so at a premium should be made to contribute or perhaps the Harbor Division could allow the local company Maui Oil an opportunity to sell fuel in the Harbor with a 1% surcharge going to the dredging. That would still be cheaper fuel, support jobs locally and move in the right direction

  • Logicman

    Hmmm, tour boat operators and fishermen need to have a deep channel to operate out of Lahaina harbor, let’s open a fund up and get donations from all the tour operators, fishermen and boaters that need that and get this thing done. Problem solved.