(BIVN) – As state lawmakers advance a bill to provide $60 million in disaster relief for Hawaiʻi Island following the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano, questions remain over how the money will be spent in the hazardous region.
“I support this bill,” said Representative Nicole Lowen from Kona during a February 8 joint House committee meeting held specifically to consider the funding package, “but I want to make sure that we’re thinking wisely about how it’s spent. Have you guys taken the time to think about what’s a reasonable future for Puna?”
“Yes, we have to make sure people who live in Kalapana and Pāhoa have safe roads to drive on and maybe provide access to Pohoiki but we’re not rebuilding Leilani Estates and Kapoho,” Rep. Lowen continued. “I know it’s difficult if it’s your district, and and people who live there love that area. I’m sure you have pressure from your community to basically rebuild and try to go back to what was there previously, but… I don’t think to have a goal of doing that entirely is not going to be a good use of taxpayer dollars. So,
to what degree has that conversation happened at your level?”
“The mayor told us learn from our past mistakes,” answered Diane Ley, the Hawaiʻi County Director of Research and Development, who attended the hearing with three members of the County Council: Sue Lee Loy, Ashley Kierkiewicz, and Tim Richards. “Those past mistakes are, maybe, encouraging development where there’s risk and it was it was development that provided very affordable housing opportunities,” Ley said.
“Some residents want to go home, some people want to never go home again,” Ley continued. “We need to balance the safety and risk and property rights. We’ve partnered with UH Mānoa to conduct a risk assessment. That should be out this month. We will couple that with U.S. Geological Survey’s hazard zones and then do some scenario options, looking at- do we do business as usual, do we replace everything, or do we do straight-up mitigation and move everybody out and retreat from the area with buyouts.”
“Iʻm sorry to interrupt,” said Rep. Lowen. “Business as usual. It doesn’t sound like a robust conversation has happened if – do we replace everything is the question that’s still on the table – because … the ground is literally still steaming.”
“What we’ve been having conversations about is migratory housing,” said Councilmember Sue Lee Loy, who represents the Hilo district. “They live
in Puna because that’s where they can afford it. So where do we put this
migratory housing where they’re closer to jobs?”
“I support the idea of building more housing,” Rep. Lowen said, “but I think more specifically it’s about infrastructure in Puna and what’s the plan for Puna. Like if we talked about sea level rise. Will it be some kind of managed retreat out of high risk areas where you’re right on top of the rift zone?”
“Unfortunately, this takes time and sometimes it takes money and the county hasn’t had the financial resources,” Ley said. “We are using the existing general plan, we’re using the existing Community Development Plan, and we are doing extensive outreach to the community. Because one of the important things to ask is – what do you want for your community? Rather than having a federal government, state government, County government come and say this is what’s going to happen in your community.”
“If the legislature can help us with these resources, and tee that up, we will be ready by 2020 to make some solid decisions,” Ley said.
When asked by another state representative how much recovery money will be spent on projects in Lava Zones 1 and 2, Ley answered, “no firm decisions have been made.”
“We’ve identified $236 million in impacts to public facilities on the county side: county roads, water lines, and parks,” Ley said. “No decisions have been made at this point as to putting those resources back into that hazard zone one area.”
“We may want to put smaller roads in, so that only we’re encouraging agriculture and those existing homes,” Ley said.
As of February 11, House Bill 1180 has passed second reading in the House and has been referred to the Finance Committee.