(BIVN) – An unused airstrip in Puna, just off Highway 130 north of Pahoa, has been paved as part of the emergency response to the volcanic eruption, although its future use as a landing zone is in doubt. Instead, the area could serve as the next location for a transitional housing project, to serve some of the hundreds displaced by lava flows.
Hawaii County Public Works deputy director Merrick Nishimoto said the airstrip project came about because the National Guard identified the need for an additional landing zone just in case a mass evacuation by air was necessary.
“They wanted to have an additional place” in the Puna area, Nishimoto said, “for the helicopters to land and refuel to cut their flight time by 25 minutes as opposed to flying all the way into Hilo.”
State land authorization was required before removal of vegetation, grubbing and paving could begin.
“I’ve only been with the county for 11 years,” Nishimoto said, “but to the best of my knowledge it is the first time that the county has worked on an airstrip.”
“The need for the landing strip as a landing zone for the helicopters has passed,” Nishimoto said, “however there’s talks right now about possibly using that for additional, transitional housing. We’re looking into that, possibly putting up additional units there for transitional short-term housing – not long-term housing – but something that we can use for the interim. There are some utilities available, also, all along that landing strip.”