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Harbor near capacity for foreign cargo

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Harbor near capacity for foreign cargo

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The state's only international cargo shipping terminal could reach its capacity by the end of this year, putting new strains on an already bursting-at-the-seams Honolulu Harbor.

With no room to grow, the area around Pier 1 is becoming the focus of a battle that pits cargo, cruise ship and other maritime interests against one another, and could even limit the growth of other developments along the Kaka'ako waterfront, officials said.

"There's a sense of urgency to find a solution now," said Kraig Kennedy, chair of the Maritime Committee of the Chamber of Commerce.

The pier area at the 'ewa entrance to the harbor has grown in recent years from a relative backwater wharf to one that handled more than 15,000 containers from overseas last year and serves as the stepping-off point for Hawai'i's deep-sea bottled water, the state's biggest export item.

With the adjacent area at Pier 2 targeted for a $30 million upgrade to handle the growing number of cruise ships visiting O'ahu, and the expanding University of Hawai'i medical complex blocking expansion from the other direction, some officials fear that cargo could ultimately be left out of the mix planned by the Hawai'i Community Development Agency, which has jurisdiction over the area.

"My fear is that both HCDA and the Aloha Tower Development Corp. on the other side seem to be more concerned about the short-term interests of developers than they are about the state's maritime needs," said Sen. Gordon Trimble, R-12th (Waikiki, Ala Moana, Downtown)

At the heart of the dispute are about 10 acres of land between the existing cargo area and the medical school, which is set to open next month. HCDA's plans for the area include expansion of research and medical facilities. The maritime industry would like to see it reserved for future harbor growth.

"Pier 1 is now largely incapable of handling any more containers. If we fail to provide for growth at Pier 1, we run the risk of losing the ships that bring us direct foreign cargo," customs official Creighton Goldsmith told lawmakers last week.

Goldsmith, speaking as a private citizen, said that without expansion of the Pier 1 area, some lines will find it more economical to ship containers from Asia to the Mainland first, then back to Hawai'i, adding additional costs and up to 10 days of shipping time.

"It would not be a pretty picture for a number of reasons," he said.

Trimble said, however, that HCDA seems more interested in providing the space for developers, and a possible hotel, than for maritime uses.

The concerns have prompted lawmakers to seek transfer of the area from HCDA back to the state Department of Transportation, which oversees the rest of the state's harbors. The move has strong backing from cargo companies, the longshoremen's union and the Chamber of Commerce.

"The airport would never turn over a working runway to a developer, so why should a development agency have jurisdiction over a working pier?" asked Anne Stevens, a Honolulu shipping agent.

However, the Transportation Department and HCDA oppose the change. The two are working on an agreement to ensure the area stays in maritime use, at least for the near term, officials said.

"We think we have the best ability to plan for the long-term vibrancy of the area," said HCDA Executive Director Dan Dinell. "We take a holistic approach to the area, focusing on the mixed use of a live-work-play environment."

Ted Liu, state director of Business Economic Development and Tourism, said his department would like to see the cruise ship industry given top priority in the area.

"DBEDT believes that passenger facilities at Piers 1 and 2 will provide a perfect complement to the 'Gathering Place' that HCDA is working to establish in the Kaka'ako waterfront."

State officials are looking to the sprawling Kapalama Military Reservation on Sand Island for expanded domestic cargo operations in the next 10 years, but say that area is not a likely place for foreign cargo.

The ultimate solution to the problem could be to open Pearl Harbor for use by domestic shippers Matson and Horizon, Goldsmith said.

"Move domestic shipping operations into Pearl Harbor and leave Sand Island to foreign carriers and barge operators," he suggested to lawmakers. "The U.S. Navy can coexist with commercial carriers in every other harbor in America; they should be able to in the land of aloha."

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