Kawaihae Will Lose Its Beach Again

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Kawaihae Reef before harbor
Kawaihae Reef before harbor

History is about to repeat itself when the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation Harbors Division implement its 2035 Commercial Harbor Master Plan for Kawaihae Harbor in the near future.

Kawaihae had a mile long beach that stretched from the north small boat harbor all the way to the Heiau of  Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, prior to dredging the reef and construction of the Kawaihae Harbor. The decisions that lead up to the destruction of the largest reef of the island to build a peninsula from coral remains and a harbor in the windiest part of the area would rest on local business interests and the expertise of the Army Corps of Engineers, at the expenses of local families who had to relocate (some stayed while others’ properties were condemned, so they were forced to relocated elsewhere) and of course the coral reef.

A project such as this today would be absolutely impossible. We are now thankful for environment impacts studies, regulations and education about the critical roles the ocean and corals contribute to our well being.

The Harbor was constructed from 1957 to 1959 and the town of Kawaihae lost its beach and easy ocean access, but gained an industrial zone on a man made peninsula. Fortunately, over the years the relationships of the entities: DOT, DLNR, US Military, Young Brothers, commercial boat touring companies and lastly the public that shared the usage of the Harbor work well. Every one had access in one form or another. The area that is left open and unplanned is often referred to as the Coral Flat or LSD, landing ship dock.

kawaihae coral flat
kawaihae coral flat or LSD

The public used this as their easily access beach, where families can drive up and pitch a day tent. The water is clean and protected so children and play along the sand. This one thousand feet long man made beach is the last place on the island to be accessed this way. All the other beaches on this side of the islands though are accessible to all, are made more difficult through public or private ownership: residences, resorts, state beach parks.

Labor Day at Coral Flat/LSD
Beach at Coral Flat/LSD

This beach where many locals grew up playing on the sand and water with their families, uncles and aunties, cousins and friends. This beach where some of the best shells can be found. This beach where one can have it all to oneself during certain times. This beach will be lost. Gone.

In its place , a new Pier 3 according to the Master Plan.

concept MP 2035 Kawaihae Harbor
Concept MP 2035 Kawaihae Harbor
Pier 3 to replace beach
Pier 3 to replace  Coral Flat beach

If this is a hard concept to believe and to accept, here is a before and after comparison:

It is easy to imagine what the beach looks like with a new Pier 3, one only has to look back at the existing Pier 1 and container yard across the water.

Reading briefly through the Master Plan, I found no mention of a replacement beach once this little beach is being planned out.

Compatibility with Recreational Uses

Kawaihae Small Boat Harbor (South) is located in the southwest corner of the Coral Flats.  Dedicated access to this facility has to be provided to recreational users that are outside of the maritime security area. The challenge is to identify a separate roadway alignment that will provide dedicated access for recreational users.

According to the plan, recreational users will be allowed to access the Kawaihae South Small Boat Harbor and Pelekane Bay. This plan looks good from a Google Map or aerial point of view: we see proximity to the water, but once on the ground, we find there is no easy access  for the locals to wade into the water. Pelekane Bay is polluted with mud from runoffs, the water is dark brown and is infested with reef sharks. It is also becoming more more and more shallow. Last checked, a person can walk in knee high water to the mouth of the Bay from shore.  In a very short time, within years, Pelekane Bay will become a muddy beach.  At best, non boating recreational users will have use of the new boat ramp to be installed in the next phase of the South Small Boat Harbor, to access the ocean in the harbor.

The taxpayers are paying for another set of ventures that will eventually remove them from the decision making process.

I have a nagging feeling that though some of the public are aware of the changes known as harbor improvements, but they are not aware that they are about to lose another fundamental thing that Hawaiians and all who live here are entitled to: easy access to the ocean.

Update 6.4.19: Thank you for reading about this important issue. I have contacted David Tarnas Representative for District 7, and he is interested. I urge those who are interested in this issue and want to do something about it to please contact him.

Lorraine R. Inouye

Senate District 4
Hawaii State Capitol
Room 210
phone: 808-586-7335
fax: 808-586-7339

David A Tarnas

House District 7
Hawaii State Capitol
415 South Beretania St.
Honolulu, HI 96813
Room 328
phone: 808-586-8510
fax: 808-586-8514

Some Contact Information:

Directory of the Harbors Division


Hale Awa Ku Moku Building
79 South Nimitz Highway
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813-4898

Hawaii District Commercial Harbors

Port of Hilo
80 Kuhio Street
Hilo, Hawaii  96720
Phone (808) 933-8850/933-8853/933-8854
Hawaii District Manager – Jeff D. Hood (808) 933-8850
Business Services Supervisor – Ana Marie Aiu (808) 933-8850

Kawaihae Harbor
P.O. Box 44904
Kawaihae, Hawaii  96743
Marine Cargo Specialist – Debra L. Kuntz (808) 882-6213
Fax (808) 882-6212

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