Dredging Begins at Kaunakakai Harbor

Map Courtesy of US Army Corps of Engineers

After delays due to the Maui wildfires in August, dredging at Kaunakakai Harbor is set to begin the week of April 15. The multi-million-dollar U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ project will ensure that commerce can continue to reach Molokai through the harbor.

Last dredged 50 years ago, over 30,000 cubic yards of sediment have accumulated in the harbor basin, resulting in spots as shallow as nine feet. Constructed in 1934, the Kaunakakai Harbor was originally 23 feet deep. The Army Corps of Engineers described this project as “maintenance” dredging, aimed at restoring the original condition of the harbor, rather than “deepening” dredging.

Nani Shimabuku, project manager, explained funds were designated for the dredging as far back as 2016, with the project originally slated to begin last October.

“This one has dragged out a bit,” said Shimabuko. “I don’t know when we are going to be able to do this again.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ crew and equipment have paused work on Maui’s Kahului Harbor mid-project to come to Molokai to finish the Kaunakakai Harbor before it becomes busier with paddling and recreation in the summer.

The dredging itself should take about 15 days, explained Project Contractor Nick Martin, with a couple of days needed before and after to set up and dismantle the equipment.

“We plan on 21 days,” said Martin. “We plan on being here the least amount of time as possible.”

The dredging will be done by a clamshell bucket crane, which will be surrounded by a turbidity curtain to prevent kicked-up sediment from clouding harbor waters. According to reports from the project team, the built-up sediment is mostly made up of salty silt, with no hazardous levels of petroleum or heavy metals.

The Army Corps has been holding community meetings since 2022 regarding the project. Concerns from Molokai community members have consistently focused on environmental impacts and making sure the project isn’t intended to allow for bigger commercial ships, like cruises.

Project representatives were clear that this would be only restoring the harbor to its previous depths, as well as the only real opportunity for Molokai’s main harbor to be dredged.

“We got the money,” said Shimabuku. “We want to get it done before it gets to the point of being dangerous.”


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