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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 22, 2004

Canoe paddlers resist Kahului Harbor plan

 •  Map: Proposed Kahului harbor development conflicts with canoe facilities

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

KAHULUI, Maui — A state plan to add dock space and other shipping facilities within Kahului Harbor has collided head-on with a thriving canoe paddling community and other recreational users of Maui's main port.

Foes of the Department of Transportation plan complain it could end up destroying a surf spot, wiping out the harbor beach and severely restricting canoeing in the only protected waters on Maui's north shore. They also argue the plan would lead to industrialization of the Kahului waterfront and an excessive amount of street traffic in an already congested area.

New draft environmental documents describe two new piers, a passenger terminal and other improvements spelled out in the harbor's 2025 master plan, which was completed four years ago. The projects are proposed for construction within 10 years, assuming money is available.

State officials and shipping companies say the improvements are desperately needed for passenger and cargo arrivals at Hawai'i's third-busiest commercial harbor. Vessel traffic is already jockeying for space, and it only promises to get worse as the planned Hawai'i Superferry and a growing number of cruise ships make regular stops at Kahului.

But even with the proposed harbor projects, state Harbors Division planner Glenn Soma said he doesn't see that much impact on recreational users.

Soma said the plan represents a compromise for canoe club members who objected to the expansion plans described in the harbor's 2010 master plan, which called for massive dredging and the creation of three acres of new dry land created by the fill, a project that would have destroyed the beach and seriously affected the canoe paddlers.

The 2025 plan shows what he called a less intrusive "finger pier" — called Pier 2c — that would extend toward the middle of the harbor from the end of Pier 2. A draft environmental assessment of the plan estimates that only a few canoe racing lanes would be eliminated by the proposed pier.

"I was under the impression it was a win-win for the canoe paddlers and the Harbors Division," Soma said.

But paddlers say the new pier could virtually eliminate paddling in the harbor, especially in view of security restrictions imposed after 9/11. Among other things, the regulations require a 300-foot buffer around cruise ships and other passenger vessels.

"As is, we lost half the harbor (with the security rules). If this goes through, we would be doing tiny circles," said Rory Frampton, a Hawaiian Canoe Club paddler.

Frampton, a professional planner, said the draft environmental assessment greatly underestimates the extent of cultural and recreational use of the harbor, as well as the importance of canoeing to the community.

He noted that hundreds of Maui residents are involved in paddling in the harbor year-round, including students from five schools and an alternative education program. Two canoe clubs maintain clubhouses on the water at Ho'aloha Park: Na Kai Ewalu and Hawaiian Canoe Club, Maui's largest canoe club and four-time defending state champion.

Karen Chun of the Na Kai Ewalu canoe club, created a Web site — savekahuluiharbor.com — to draw attention to the issue. She said the harbor improvements, as proposed, ignore the fact that another harbor will soon be needed for a growing Maui.

"This is a Band-Aid fix that will destroy a beach and all of these cultural activities," Chun said. "And for what? Five or 10 years down the road, they're going to need another place for a harbor anyway."

Soma said it would cost many millions of dollars to create a second harbor, and he didn't think the funding would be coming anytime soon.

Soma was on Maui Wednesday for a meeting at the Hawaiian Canoe Club Hale to address community concerns about the plan. Some in the crowd of approximately 200 accused the state of bending over backward for the cruise-ship industry at the expense of recreational and cultural users of the harbor. Paddlers and others said the canoes, a traditional cultural practice of Native Hawaiians, rightly should be offered priority because they plied the waters of Kahului long before the big ships.

"You're going to tear the heart out of Hawai'i by putting something so obscene in front of us," said Kuali'i Wittman, a 19-year-old paddler.

The draft assessment was criticized as a flawed, "piecemeal" document of patchwork fixes. Speakers demanded a more extensive and costly environmental impact statement to better analyze the potential consequences of the expansion.

The paddlers got support at the meeting from county and state officials. Rob Parsons, an assistant to Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, said the expansion plan threatens to make a "profound impact" on Kahului and more study is needed, especially on the traffic issue.

State Rep. Joe Souki, D-8th (Wailuku, Waihe'e), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he "would not look kindly" on funding development plans that impact recreational uses. He encouraged harbor officials to expand to the east.

"I'm in favor of harbor improvements, but it should be done in a sensible way," he said.

For now, the state is planning two Kahului Harbor projects with completion dates at the end of 2005: the renovation and replacement of the Pier 1 restrooms, water line and sewer line — a job worth $2.3 million; and $4 million in other improvements, including pavement strengthening, a new access bridge from Pier 2 and new utilities.

As for the projects described in the draft environmental assessment, there is no money yet for the proposed expansion of Pier 3, a new Pier 4 and new Pier 2C, which would include a passenger terminal, roadway and bridge.

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.