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Lawmakers Weighing $49M for Big Island Harbors

Posted January 30, 2013, 03:07 PM HST Updated January 31, 2013, 08:50 AM HST
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A cruise ship docked at Hilo's Pier 1. File photo.

Improvements costing nearly $49 million would be made to the Big Island’s two deep-draft harbors under a bill moving through the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 475 would restore funding originally proposed by legislation in 2008. The funding was not released by former Gov. Linda Lingle and lapsed last year.

The proposed funding for Kawaihae Harbor includes $26 million for design and construction of terminal improvements, $9 million for design and site work for a new pier and $500,000 for a plan to improve cargo facilities.

At Hilo Harbor, the bill would provide $13.4 million for additional inter-island cargo areas, including a new pier.

The funding is part of nearly $144 million the bill contains for harbor projects statewide.

According to the bill, the state’s aging harbor infrastructure has not kept pace with the its growing economy. The result has been “severe congestion” as cargo, fuel and cruise ship operations compete for existing space.

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“Ocean surface transportation is our state’s lifeline,” the bill said. “It remains the only viable means to service the largest share of Hawaii’s economic needs.

“Harbor users, the state administration, and the legislature recognize that it is now extremely critical to upgrade existing port facilities and develop harbor improvements in an expedited manner,” the bill said.

The improvements would be funded through the issuing of general obligation bonds. Those borrowed funds would be repaid by revenues from rents, mooring charges and other income the state receives from the use of harbors.

The bill was unanimously approved Monday by the Senate Committee on Transportation and International Affairs and received the second of three required Senate votes today. It moves next to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

Big Island Sens. Josh Green (D-Kona, Ka`u) and Russell Ruderman (D-Puna) are among the bill’s co-sponsors, which include the Senate’s lone Republican, Sen. Sam Slom.

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