(BIVN) – It has been two years since the most recent eruption of Kīlauea Volcano, and the Puna community is still working to recover from the disaster.
The 4-month-long eruption inundated approximately 13 miles of public roads in the summer of 2018. The County has already restored Highway 132, and prior to that, cut a temporary access over Highway 137 to Pohoiki.
Kīlauea is no longer erupting, and many roads remain covered by lava. In April, it was announced that FEMA had awarded the County of Hawaiʻi $61 million in federal funds to repair various lava-inundated roads. A U.S. Senate press release named the road projects that would be funded by the FEMA award, but the County emphasized that the specific project list had not been finalized.
The Hawaiʻi County Council Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development received an update on Tuesday from Douglas Le, the Disaster Recovery Officer for the county administration. Le announced the following road restoration projects are planned:
- Pohoiki Road (awaiting Notice to Proceed);
- Leilani Avenue from Pohoiki Road to Kahukai Street;
- Lighthouse Road along with a management plan for public access at Kumukahi;
- Highway 137 from the intersection with Highway 132 and Lighthouse Road to Kapoho Vacationland;
- Highway 137 temporary road to Isaac Hale Beach Park to be restored to permanent standards.
The County does not plan to restore the full length of Highway 137, a decision that raises concern for members of the community who worry about alternate access roads in and out of lower Puna.
“The 2018 eruption created major challenges, along with some opportunities,” said Mayor Harry Kim in a later media release. “These road recovery projects take into consideration the future needs of the community and the volcanic hazards that will always be there. By learning from past events, and taking strategic and thoughtful steps, we can build a better future for Puna.”
The County media release also stated:
A cost agreement between the County and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that was announced in March identified about $82 million worth of damage to public roads from the eruption, not including Highway 132. The Federal share of that is about $61.5 million, or 75%. The County’s 25% local match, covered by the State loans, is about $20.5 million. FEMA’s funds are provided on a reimbursement basis.
“These recovery decisions were made following extensive community engagement, technical analysis on the geological conditions and hazard exposure, and consultation with the Disaster Recovery Task Force,” said Douglas Le, the County’s Recovery Officer.
“We appreciate the input and assistance from Puna residents, and we are committed to building on these partnerships as we finish the recovery plan and move into implementation. That includes working in collaboration with lineal descendants, property owners, and other community members to manage public access to the shoreline at Kumukahi, accessed by Lighthouse Road, in order to protect sensitive natural and cultural resources.”
Public roads that will not be restored are: Hīnalo, Lauone, and Honua‘ula Streets. Funding identified for roads or road segments that will not be restored will be applied to alternate projects to support recovery in Puna.
As previously announced, Pohoiki Road is the next priority for restoration. The County is ready to begin construction once FEMA grants a Notice to Proceed. In order to facilitate safe two-way traffic, the County plans to realign the lower portion of Pohoiki Road as an alternate project. The historic trees along that route will be preserved.
Other considerations for alternate projects include improving connectivity for Puna roads; providing safe access and sanitation for recreation; and addressing impacts to communities from past eruptions.
Other road projects will need to go through the same review process with FEMA before work can proceed or be scheduled. That includes completing design, permitting, Environmental and Historic Preservation Review, and securing right of entry for neighboring properties.