State ‘tug-of-war’ delays repairs to collapsed Waianae pier, other harbor projects

Waianae Small Boat Harbor

Repairs to a collapsed pier at Waianae Boat Harbor have finally been approved.

Unfortunately, work won’t be happening in the immediate future. The primary reason for this delayed project and many others is due in part to a tug-of-war of sorts between two state departments.

For many boaters, both private and commercial, navigating Waianae Boat Harbor has been difficult since a portion of the pier fell into the water back in December.

Five months later, the collapsed pier remains on the harbor floor in part because of a holdup for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in getting a Water Quality Certification (WQC) permit from the state Department of Health.

The WQC ensures steps will be taken to mitigate any adverse impacts to the water, and it’s needed before any project on, above, or adjacent to the water can move forward.

“The state land department put out bids to fix this pier just days after it collapsed, but it couldn’t immediately move forward without the clean water certificate from the Department of Health. It came last month, but repairs remain on hold because the contractor is now waiting for materials to be shipped in from the mainland,” explained Eric Yuasa, engineer, DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.

In this case, the permit was approved so quickly, everyone was caught off-guard, but that’s hardly normal.

Yuasa tell us as of October 2015, a total of 42 WQC applications were open. He says for those 42 projects, the average wait time for approval is 670 days, partly because the applications for the permits often wind up being several hundred pages.

“By the time you end up submitting that application, the Department of Health takes a year, and the project is already a year-and-a-half behind schedule,” he explained.

A request for Manele Small Boat Harbor on Lanai was 757 pages. “It’s for repair of a loading dock which the Army Corps issued a nationwide permit for,” Yuasa said.

But rather than getting signed, Yuasa’s application was denied not once, but twice.

Keith Kawaoka, deputy director for the state Department of Health’s Environmental Health Administration, said he understands the frustration, “but our side is passionate too. We have the regulations to uphold and we’re the only ones to do this. It’s not going to be the Corps. It’s not going to be the city. It’s us.”

As a result, Kawaoka says every permit is carefully scrutinized.

Still, the problem remains, which is why Kawaoka recently convened what’s known as a kaizen with all the stakeholders, a structured event literally meaning to take something apart then put it back together again, only better.

“You go through some bloodletting,” Kawaoka said. “I didn’t know what could occur as you’re dealing with the people that deal with the process or frustration. They’ve had frustrations in the past and that comes out.”

“They basically locked all of us in a room for a week. It got very contentious sometimes,” Yuasa said.

Despite their frustration, the various agencies came out of the kaizen with a new best practices guideline.

“It’s a work in progress,” Yuasa said. “There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but the Department of Health is committed.”

There are signs of progress. In addition to the recent approval for Waianae Small Boat Harbor, the health department also approved work on Honokohau Harbor on Hawaii Island.

But it came after a waiting period of more than 700 days.

Kawaoka says if all the key players can implement the best practices plan they themselves developed, that wait period could be cut by 75 percent.

We told the key players have met several times since being locked in a room together for a week and continue to make progress.

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