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DOT proposes improvements at Kawaihae Harbor

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HILO » State transportation officials are proposing $128 million in improvements at Kawaihae Harbor to meet an anticipated increase in cargo volumes over the next 20 years.

The state Department of Transportation has filed a draft environmental assessment for the project, but it doesn’t set out a timeline, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

The draft assessment says harbor needs should be addressed within the next 15 years, and terminal operations should be enhanced to accommodate increased volume. No timetable has been established to start construction or secure funding. The draft also prioritizes suggestions made in the 2035 harbor master plan, which was recently completed.

"Terminal operations must be enhanced to accommodate a doubling of potential volumes," the assessment states. "Ocean transportation is thus Hawaii’s lifeline to the world, supporting every facet of the local economy: tourism, construction, national defense, agriculture and all other industries. Current prosperity and quality of life are highly reliant on the commercial harbors system. Ocean transportation provides the most cost effective and energy efficient method to transport cargo in and out of the state from the U.S. mainland and foreign countries to residents and businesses."

Work to be completed would include internal road improvements, security fencing, dedicating land for a south small boat harbor, relocating the Hawaii District Office, reconstruction and extension of Pier 2A by 340 feet, lengthening the Pier 2C extension by 325 feet and dredging Pier 2C.

The plan is to accommodate up to five barges at once at the harbor. Additional incoming cargo will also mean an increase in gate traffic.

"Traffic backups will become an increasing problem if improvements are not made," the environmental assessment states. "Backups will be caused by increased truck and auto volumes as well as by security clearances during periods of high security threat levels. Longer queuing space will be needed to keep traffic from backing up into the travel lanes of Kawaihae Road."

The improvements would also address food security concerns and will call for move covered storage and refrigeration units to reduce the potential of spoiled food.

The master plan calls for the Department of Agriculture to build a facility to inspect, quarantine and treat goods arriving and leaving the harbor. DOT would provide 1 acre for the building.

DOT officials expect the environmental assessment to receive a finding of no significant impact since construction would take place in an area already developed. The public has until Aug. 22 to submit comments.

Commercial harbor users already have issued support for the plan, but some of the early commenters have expressed a desire to minimize the impacts of construction on humpback whales, as well as hawksbill and green sea turtles.

The state anticipates paying for the project by primarily using Harbor Special Funds.

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