Swaths of carpet are the only protection small fishing boats have when they pull up to satellite docks in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Rotting wood, crumbling concrete and stairs without railings are making conditions unsafe on the 50-year-old pier. The Pride of Hawaii cruise ship sits in the background of Kailua Bay on its regular weekly visit.
Earthquake hastens deterioration of pier
New fissures on the Kailua Pier add risk to both workers and cruise ship visitors
KAILUA-KONA » A preliminary assessment of Kailua Pier revealed earthquake damage, but commercial operators say the cracks were showing long before last month's temblors.
Casey Ballao, a member of the Kailua Pier Operators Association, said he has noticed new problems on the pier, which has long served as a commercial and recreation center for the community.
The new fissures have exacerbated long-standing safety concerns and operational hazards on a pier originally built as a cattle loading dock. It also will serve as the gateway to Kona for passengers from up to 200 cruise ships this year.
"Safety is our biggest concern," said Ballao, general manager for Roberts Hawaii on the Big Island. "The satellite docks are falling apart, the cement is cracking and falling off, stairs have no railings. Every day we come to work, we knock on wood."
Last month, nearly a dozen tour operators welcomed more than 100,000 customers aboard their vessels at the pier. That number does not include the general public or special events such as the annual Ironman triathlon, he said.
Liability concerns already restrict operators from offering assistance to their customers during boarding and disembarking. At least three worker's compensation cases have resulted from pier-related accidents, and numerous vessels have been damaged from banging into the pier's concrete edges, Ballao said.
"It's an open-water facility, and we are coming into the time of year when we will see the big winter surges," he said. "These guys are all professionals, but it's just tough to work out there."
In an inspection following the Oct. 15 earthquakes, Waipahu-based structural engineering consultant Arnold T. Okubo & Associates Inc. found cracks throughout the surface concrete slabs and pavements, stairways, walls and boat ramps.
An underwater inspection found the steel bulkhead in good condition, but there were numerous cracks in concrete and piling caps that support the pier.
Movement and bending during the earthquake also pulled rust deposits from the underwater pilings, resulting in thinning and weakening of the support columns.
The field observation report released Friday recommended repairs to prevent further corrosion and deterioration.
The state is committed to acting as quickly as possible, said state Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman Peter Young last week at a governor's advisory commission meeting in Kona.
"Kailua Pier is a focal point, an iconic structure for Kona," he said. "It is and likely will continue to be a central activity area, and it's critical to maintain it."
He said funding will come in two forms: emergency disaster money and the regular state budget.
The state collects 3 percent of commercial operators' annual gross plus mooring and parking fees, or more than $250,000 this fiscal year, for maintenance and repairs.
Some of the $3.5 million in state repair work two years ago -- from backfill under the pier to mooring fenders and asphalt resurfacing -- already had fallen into disrepair before the quake.
"We want the state to do what it is supposed to do," Ballao said. "The tires and rinky-dink chains will carry us through a year, and they break and we fix them and we'll be good for six months. ... We should be spending money on correct materials."
Wharfs at the site date to the 19th century, but the current pier was completed in 1953 to transfer cattle onto barges. When those operations ceased in the mid-1960s, the terminal building was razed, and the wharf evolved into the town's center of ocean-related activities.
Users now include charter fishermen, cruise ships and commercial tour and water adventures.