By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A long-delayed replacement of Hilo International Airport’s cargo facilities is now under way, and East Hawaii officials say they expect it to provide a much-needed boost to the economy.
On Friday, project overseers said the heavy rains had put a stop to work, but that grading and excavating for the building’s footings was on schedule, with the construction of loading docks up to the building edges and drain line installation also ongoing.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie was joined by area politicians and state representatives as they broke ground on the cargo facility earlier this month, with Isemoto Contracting Co. taking the reins on the $14 million construction project. Once completed, the 63,000-square-foot building will serve the cargo needs of the East Hawaii community, “making the work of cargo handling companies and freight forwarders more efficient and convenient,” according to the state Department of Transportation.
At the Feb. 12 ceremony, Gov. Neil Abercrombie hailed the project as a necessary boost for Hawaii Island’s economy.
“This is an important project for the Big Island and especially for the businesses and residents in Hilo,” he said. “Not only will this project put skilled craftsmen and women to work during its construction, the completed facility will serve the needs of the community for many years in the future.
In addition to cargo operations, the building will house office space for various agencies overseeing freight activities, including the state Department of Agriculture, said DOT spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter.
“They’re very happy about it, because it will streamline their inspections of cargo, because they will be in the same building,” she said.
State Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Hilo, said Friday that he was thrilled to finally have the project under way after a wait of about four years.
“It’s going to have a tremendous impact both for the community and the construction guys, putting some of them back to work after this long wait,” he said.
In November 2009, state officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Hold Cargo and Light Industrial Building at the airport. At the time, plans called for a 60,000-square-foot, steel framed cargo building, with the idea of bringing cargo operations closer to the main terminal along the southern side of the facility. The project was to proceed in two phases and be done in two years.
But then the state’s budget crunch hit with a vengeance, and the second phase was put on the back burner, officials said.
A nine-month delay also arose when the project sought approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Weather Service in relocating several weather stations at the airport.
The contractor completed work last year on the first phase — the construction of a 50,000-square-yard apron and taxiways designed to support wide-body cargo aircraft. The total cost came in at about $14 million, with 95 percent funded by the FAA.
The funding to begin the second phase was recently released by Abercrombie as past of his so-called “New Day Work Projects.”
The various buildings at the western end of the airport that are currently being used for cargo were built in the 1950s and 1970s, and have seen a considerable amount of wear and tear.
“We are pleased to see this project moving forward,” said DOT Director Glenn Okimoto. “This new, modern facility will be a great improvement over the existing structure, which is in need of extensive repairs.”
In 2011, the most recent date for which data is available, the airport handled 14,598 tons of outgoing cargo, and 10,304 of incoming interisland cargo. Overseas outgoing cargo totaled 1 ton, and 5 tons incoming.
Tenants at the airport include Trans Air, Hawaiian Air Cargo, Aloha Air Cargo and more, Sluyter said.
Personnel at the current cargo operations will shift into the new building when it is complete in about a year.
“We are still working with the tenants and don’t have an exact list of tenants that will be in the new building,” Sluyter said. “There will also be space for state of Hawaii Department of Ag and freight forwarders.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.