Wharf Woes

Community debates possible renovations.      

By Melissa Kelsey

From canoe races to weekly barge deliveries, Kaunakakai Wharf is a bustling center of island activity. Keiki swim in the surrounding waters to cool off on hot days, and passengers arriving on the Molokai Princess ferry enjoy their first walk on the Friendly Isle. All this activity has lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to target millions of dollars to improve Molokai Princess ferry facilities at the wharf.   

The renovations have been proposed as a result of inadequate restroom facilities for ferry passengers and substandard mechanisms for fighting fires at the wharf, according to Valery Suzuki, the DLNR engineer coordinating the project.  

“Existing commuter ferry operations are vital,” said Suzuki. “Current facilities are inadequate.”

The Proposed Improvements
Suzuki explained that with the volume of passengers arriving on the ferry each day, the current restroom facilities do not meet the needs of passengers. As a result, she said the DLNR hopes to turn the existing ferry waiting station into a new and larger restroom. A new ferry station would be built further away from the barge docking port. Suzuki said this change would reduce safety hazards resulting from the barge docking so close to where the ferry docks.  

The new restrooms would include janitor and storage closets and new underground sewer lines. It was unclear what would happen to the old restroom facilities.

Concurrent with the same project, consulting engineer Brian Lock said the DLNR hopes to replace the currently existing six-inch diameter water pipes leading underneath the road to the wharf with 12-inch diameter pipes. The new pipes would meet county code for fire protection at the wharf and increase public safety, according to Lock.

Suzuki said the projects will be funded by 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent state funds.

Residents React
At the MoPC meeting last Wednesday, many commissioners expressed opposition to the plans. Some were concerned about the cost, and others were concerned that the new plans would exacerbate traffic problems at the wharf.

“Let’s be smart about how we use our money,” said Commissioner Teri Waros, who wondered if some of the funds could be used to solve traffic problems at the wharf.  

Other commissioners expressed doubt that expanding the building facilities would be a wise use of space.

“Making the larger custodian rooms [in the new restrooms] is taking away space from a very crowded area,” said Commissioner John Sprinzel.

Community member Bill Feeter said he was concerned that the underground pipe renovations could affect the health of the coral reef at the wharf.  

“The ultimate fate of the coral reef of south Molokai has not yet been determined,” said Feeter. “It is for the people of Molokai to safeguard this special place for future generations.”   

Molokai fire fighter Greg Jenkins spoke in favor of the project, asserting that Kaunakakai Wharf encompasses critical island infrastructure, and is the entry port for Molokai’s food deliveries and fuel, including fuel for the electric plant. He said the current water pipes leading to the wharf would not provide sufficient water supply in the event of a fire.  

“If we do not have adequate fire fighting at the end of the wharf, we will not be able to protect passengers on the ferry,” said Jenkins.


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