MAALAEA - Federal and state agencies are ending a decadeslong project that would have expanded Maalaea Small Boat Harbor, citing costs as well as opposition from community groups that maintained that the proposals would fail to protect the harbor from surges while destroying acres of coral and affecting the "Freight Train" surf break.
The decision to terminate the project was announced Friday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.
"Based on stakeholder input, we are choosing not to move forward on this project at this time," DLNR Chairman William Aila Jr. said in a statement. "We thank the community for their input and will continue to work with residents to identify priority projects in Maui County."
view of Maalaea Harbor
Lucienne de Naie, who has helped direct the effort against the project since the 1990s, said, "I think this is a triumph of common sense."
De Naie is a board member of the Maui chapters of the Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club. Those two organizations and Save Our Surf, with the late Kevin Johns, have been the main groups involved in the grass-roots initiative that evolved with changing participants over the years, de Naie said.
"So many people contributed their ideas to this," she said. "Probably 15 different organizations were part of it in some way or another."
Kahului resident Orlando Ferrer, 20, bails out from his longboard while surfing last month outside Maalaea Small Boat Harbor. The University of Hawaii Maui College nursing student said the surf was “pretty solid.” He said the southern swell generated wave faces of 6 to 7 feet. State and federal agencies have ended a project to expand the boat harbor, which surfers have said would affect the harbor’s “Freight Train” surf break.
shootsphotoservices.com / CHARLES HUARD photo
"It was our major campaign," said Tim Lara, chairman of the Surfrider Foundation's Maui chapter. "It's a major victory."
Originally authorized in 1968, the project has gone through a variety of proposed designs to address navigational safety and surge-related problems at the harbor.
State and federal officials reinitiated the project in 2009, with a focus on using stakeholder input and updated technical information in the planning process, officials said.
"This has had so many twists and turns," de Naie said, noting that the original plan was developed at Army Corps headquarters in Vicksburg, Miss. "It gives a little hope that sometimes common sense prevails and you realize there can be a better plan that's not the 'one size fits all.' "
She said the decision shows that officials listened to the community.
"It's gratifying to see that they are more earth-solution oriented than concrete-solution oriented," she said.
De Naie said at one point, the Army Corps of Engineers plan would have doubled the number of slips and created a new entrance to the harbor, paving over a small beach and adding 620 feet to the south breakwall.
Dynamite would have been used on 4.8 acres of coral in what had been a vibrant, healthy reef, she said. That would have destroyed habitat, including that of the threatened green sea turtle, de Naie said.
Surfers said the addition to the breakwall could have affected the surf break. Another effect would have been the disappearance of a small beach used by canoe clubs to train for races.
Retired engineer Jack Mueller and others used data from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration buoy to determine the biggest impact - that most of the time, the direction of waves was aimed at the proposed new entrance to the harbor, de Naie said. Instead of making it safer, she said, the proposed design would have made it more dangerous for boats leaving the harbor.
"It was a plan that had something for everyone to hate," de Naie said. "You got to keep telling the truth as you see it. What was being proposed was not based on any real data. At essence, citizen research showed what was being proposed really wasn't going to solve the problem."
At one time, de Naie said, the proposed harbor expansion was packaged with other harbor improvements, including more pump-out stations, better bathrooms and a better launch ramp, that fishermen and others supported.
Ed Underwood, administrator of the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said the terminated navigation improvement project is separate from $16 million in new harbor improvements that are under way at Maalaea Small Boat Harbor, including building infrastructure for interisland ferries.
State officials said the high cost of coral mitigation weighed heavily in the decision not to proceed with the navigation improvement project.
Underwood said there were "a lot of unknowns" in what that cost would have been.
"We looked at the feasibility of continuing on with the new federal regulations regarding coral mitigation," Underwood said. "We took into account the community concerns with the surf break in the area. We worked closely with the federal partners. We decided that, at this time, we didn't want to continue on with this study."
As for the surges at the harbor, "it's been going on since 1968, so it can't be that big of a concern," Underwood said.
"It does affect the boats and the way you moor your boats," he said. "But they have been able to deal with it up till this point.
"We're not saying in the future we can't go back and decide to do some improvements. But it's just at this time we don't want to continue on. We worked closely with the Army Corps. We mutually agreed to not continue at this time with the study."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.