Maui News

Urgent repairs called for at Māʻalaea Small Boat Harbor Ramp

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A pickup truck launches a small boat Tuesday at Māʻalaea Small Boat Harbor. Last week, the Maui County Council called for the state to repair the unsafe boat ramp. PC: Brian Perry

The Maui County Council has unanimously adopted a resolution urging the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to repair the Māʻalaea Small Boat Harbor Ramp.

The boat ramp is in disrepair, endangering public safety and making it unsafe for the US Coast Guard to launch its small vessels during low tide, according to the resolution. Also, after extensive damage from the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire shut down Lahaina Harbor, the Expeditions Lānaʻi-Maui ferry only operates out of Māʻalaea.

Council Chair Alice Lee introduced the resolution, after receiving a letter from Kalei Luʻuwai, vice commodore of the Māʻalaea Boat and Fishing Club.

According to a letter from Luʻuwai, the Māʻalaea boat ramp has not been maintained, and its current state of disrepair is “creating extremely dangerous conditions.”

Luʻuwai said recent run-off into the harbor has accumulated sediment on the ramp that has made it unusable for most vessels.


Also, there is a boat in the harbor taking on water that needs emergency repairs, but it is unable to be hauled out, according to Luʻuwai.

“If the boat remains in the harbor, it could eventually sink, causing marine damage within the harbor,” said Luʻuwai. “Another concern is the presence of a large object in the ramp that recently caused damage to a boat maneuvering within the ramp.”

After seeing copies of the Council resolution and Luʻuwai’s letter, the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation said dredging of the Māʻalaea launch ramp will require $4 million in funding and permits.

“Best case scenario is if funding is appropriated, the launch ramp may be dredged by the end of the year, but it all hinges on legislative funding,” the division said.

Senate Bill 2156, Senate Draft 1, calls for the state to appropriate a recurring $3 million in funding for DLNR to dredge small boat harbors, channels, ramps and other port infrastructure. The bill says the current system of waiting until dredging is imminent “creates a haphazard system” for allocating money and issuing permits.


However, in providing testimony strongly in favor of the bill, Dawn Chang, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, did not list Māʻalaea among state harbors needing maintenance dredging on a regular basis. Her testimony included Lahaina Small Boat Harbor and Māla Wharf Channel in West Maui and small boat harbors and ramps on Hawaiʻi Island, Kauaʻi and Oʻahu.

The Senate bill crossed over to the House on March 5 and was scheduled to be heard today by the House Committee on Water and Land.

During Council consideration of the resolution last week, West Maui Council Member Tamara Paltin said that, with the Lahaina Harbor remaining closed, many boaters have no choice but to use Māʻalaea Harbor. Māla Boat Ramp in Lahaina was already overused before the fire, and some boats cannot use that ramp, she said.

Paltin said the situation is “serious,” and “it’s critical to keep especially Māʻalaea functional.”

“The Coast Guard is stationed at Māʻalaea,” she said. And, if Coast Guard personnel “can’t launch whenever they need to, then we’re in big trouble.”

Boaters use a boat ramp at Māʻalaea Small Boat Harbor to access the south- and west-facing shores of Maui. Its importance as a harbor has grown since the August wildfires shut down Lahaina Harbor seven months ago. PC: Brian Perry

Lānaʻi Council Member Gabe Johnson said infrastructure in Hawaiʻi is “crumbling,” and Māʻalaea Harbor is another example.

He reminded state officials responsible for maintaining Māʻalaea that, because the Lānaʻi-Maui ferry operates out of that harbor, federal funds would be available for harbor improvements.

“If we have any more emergencies; we are stacked on emergencies,” Johnson said. “If this harbor has any kind of malfunction, our first responders can’t get out there. The ferry takes our first responders out to Lānaʻi.”

Kahului Council Member Tasha Kama said repairs at Māʻalaea should be a priority.

“I’m kind of disappointed that we have to tell the state that they need to do their job, especially as the harbor is important to us,” she said.

Visitors make their way through a busy parking lot Tuesday at Māʻalaea Small Boat Harbor. PC: Brian Perry

A year ago, there were a couple of attempts by state lawmakers to address maintenance problems at Māʻalaea and other small boat harbors in the state.

House Bill 1318 and accompanying Senate Bill 1477 would transfer from DLNR to Maui County the operations and maintenance of Māʻalaea, Lahaina and Mānele small boat harbors, as well as the Kīhei and Māla boat ramps.

The bills were not passed last session. They were carried over to this year without action.

The measures acknowledge ongoing problems with the state’s management of the facilities.

“Maui’s small boat harbors have descended into complete disarray and are under-functioning in many different aspects,” the bills said. “The Legislature also finds that numerous repairs and maintenance projects at these small boat harbors remain uncompleted and services are performed on an ad hoc basis.”

In testimony opposing the bills in February 2023, Chang said that transferring small boat harbor facilities from the state to Maui County would only shift “the existing issues and challenges from one government entity to another with no plan in place to resolve those issues and challenges.”

She pointed out that small boat harbor and coastal areas programs were transferred from the state Department of Transportation to DLNR in 1991, along with a $300 million deferred maintenance backlog “with no immediate solutions for funding or reducing the backlog.”

“Since 1991, the department has worked to reduce the maintenance backlog by nearly half but cannot keep up with maintenance needs due to a combination of insufficient funding and rampant inflation,” Chang said.

Another measure, House Bill 1320 and accompanying Senate Bill 1475, would have required DLNR to create a strategic plan for maintenance dredging of important port and harbor locations and report the plan to the Legislature. It also would have required DLNR to complete at least two projects identified in the plan.

That bill also did not pass last year’s lawmaking session. It was forwarded to this year’s session, without action so far.

Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
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