More than 450 people attended a virtual community meeting on Tuesday to get updates on the status of West Maui’s commercial and recreational vessel activities.
Emotions ran high, as Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair Dawn Chang acknowledged the tremendous losses many people have suffered, including the loss of loved ones, homes and vessels as a result of the Aug. 8 wildfire.
The fire destroyed the Lahaina Small Boat harbor, including at least 80 vessels and contractors with the US Coast Guard have begun the process of salvaging sunken boats.
Jim Walsh, the general manager for Atlantis Submarines, said his company’s passenger ferry the Holokai, burned by the Lahaina fire, is planning to take the vessel to Honolulu for repairs now that the harbor channel has been cleared of debris and sunken vessels.
On behalf of owners who still have boats floating at the Lahaina harbor, Walsh asked whether DLNR has a place for them to relocate. Chang said that given the finite number of slips and moorings, not only in West Maui, but around the island, it’s going to be difficult to accommodate and satisfy everyone.
Many of the other commercial operators who had slips at the Lahaina Harbor, lost their vessels to the fire. Some vessel owners lost everything, including their homes and property. They expressed frustration, pain and fear with some indicating the only thing they have left is their slip, according to a DLNR update.
Uncertainty over whether they still have slips was raised, because DOBOR rules require anyone seeking a permit for a slip in a state small boat harbor to have a seaworthy vessel.
Chang explained that for those who do not have vessels, DOBOR will put their names on a waitlist to be issued a slip once Lahaina Harbor is operational. DLNR reports that the explanation was not satisfactory as some expressed that there have been exceptions made in the past for similar situations.
Chang pledged that she will review past practices and reconsider greater assurances of slips at the rebuilt Lahaina Harbor.
While the Lahaina Small Boat harbor was destroyed, most of the questions and concerns were related to resumption of commercial vessel activities at Māla Wharf. Conflicts between recreational boaters and tour companies existed prior to the fire, and remain a concern today.
One suggestion was to restrict commercial operations at Māla Wharf to Monday through Friday operations and have it open around the clock for recreational boaters. Chang informed the participants that DOBOR does not plan to reopen Māla until it can provide a staff presence onsite with a portable office trailer and bathroom facilities. She said it will take about 30-60 days to install the trailer at Māla Wharf.
Chang encouraged the community and tour operators to find common ground and to work together to come up with an equitable plan to avoid further conflict once Māla reopens. “We cannot do this alone, and we need all your help to improve operations at the small boat ramp, which is just north of the Lahaina Small Boat Harbor,” she said.
After almost 3 hours of questions and answers, Chang acknowledged that the issues of commercial and recreational use of the Māla Wharf are much deeper than hours of operations or bathrooms.
She polled the attendees whether they would be open to expanding trailer parking at Lahaina Small Boat Harbor to accommodate Māla commercial operators and make Māla Wharf available for recreational use only. An overwhelming majority of 87% voted yes. Chang said no guarantees, but she would commit to gathering more information and future meetings with the Maui community to discuss all the options.