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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.