Hawaii & Alaska
The eruption in 2019 filled in Pohoiki Bay, shutting down the boat ramp area in the process. (Courtesy: DLNR/2023)

HI - State Inches Closer To Restoring Access To Big Island Boat Ramp 5 Years After Eruption

Fishermen and residents say it's time to reopen the Pohoiki Bay boat ramp to subsistence fishing, cultural practices, recreation and other uses.

A popular boat ramp on Hawaii island is in line to receive $5.4 million for dredging and excavation of volcanic debris left behind from the 2018 eruption of Kilauea Volcano.

Big Island

The eruption landlocked the Pohoiki boat ramp in Puna, forcing fishermen to drive an hour or more to Hilo to put their boats in the water, a time-consuming and costly process.

Earlier this month, state Sen. Joy San Buenaventura announced that nearly $49 million in funding would be headed to Puna, the district she represents on the windward coast. Of that, $5.4 million will be steered toward rehabilitating the shoreline access to Pohoiki boat ramp.

Although the total price tag for restoring the area to pre-eruption condition is estimated at $40 million, the new capital improvement funds for the boat ramp should qualify the project for federal aid and possible reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a state news release.

FEMA has not yet committed to reimbursing the state for the boat ramp project, according to a state official and private consultants who spoke during a two-hour virtual meeting last week.

Department of Land and Natural Resources project manager Finn McCall said during the meeting that the Pohoiki Bay work is “completely unprecedented.” There are no examples he or others could find of a boat ramp being cut off by a volcanic eruption and a state agency being asked to deal with the aftermath.

McCall, who works within the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said the final timeline and scope of the project will be dictated by the state. FEMA only partially reimburses such projects. It also doesn’t provide up-front cash so the state will need to decide if and when it’ll direct full funding for the restoration and access project.

At the public meeting on Wednesday, several local fishermen pleaded with the project consultants and McCall to move forward with the project.

Pohoiki Bay used to open right into the ocean before the eruption. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2017)

Bunnie Harrington, a fisherman’s wife, said her husband has to spend hundreds of dollars in fuel costs every time he takes his boat to Hilo and that doesn’t include bait and other expenses. There have been times as recently as this month when he’s been caught in life-threatening seas and bad weather that could have been avoided if Pohoiki boat ramp was open to provide a closer exit from the water.

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