(BIVN) – A group of Puna residents impacted by the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea volcano on the lower East Rift Zone has written a letter to Mayor Harry Kim, taking issue with the County’s handling of the recovery effort in recent months, and asking planners to hold off on submitting a required HUD Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery plan.
I Mua Lower Puna sent the following letter, which was signed by over 30 people – many of whom have been active in the recovery effort:
We, of I Mua Lower Puna, and other supporters of the communities affected by the 2018 lava inundations, are of the opinion that the planning effort led by the current administration for recovery from the 2018 Lower East Rift Zone eruption (2018 LERZ) has the potential to become a second and lasting disaster. The vision for the future of the area that was directly impacted by the 2018 LERZ has been neither explained nor agreed to by the affected communities.
By way of illustration, the 1960 tsunami devastated Hilo, as well as other areas throughout the State. For Hilo, a vision developed that resulted in a green-belt from the bottom of Waianuenue Avenue to the Wailoa river boat harbor and beyond to what is now a public golf course, setting back redevelopment from the shoreline in this area, and developing a cluster of private and public structures in Kaikoo.
This administration has yet to share with the public consulting planning studies for economic recovery and overall vision for the Lower Puna communities.
There are positive actions that have occurred, such as reopening Highway 132, and we acknowledge the earnest efforts of County personnel. However, promises have been made, not kept, regarding road recovery and basic planning actions have not been taken to assure a viable community supported plan.
In light of the foregoing, we are asking that the HUD-CDBG plan not be finalized and submitted until the end of April 2021, that relevant planning studies related to recovery that have not been made public be immediately released, and that the impacted community and the Recovery Task Force collectively review and decide on how to move forward. Senator Schatz’s office assures us that a time extension is possible. Anything less would create a second disaster for the people and lands impacted by the 2018 LERZ. We want to work with the County to ensure that the long-term plan becomes a “Road to Recovery.”
We specifically request the following:
• Identify and implement a recovery plan that reflects a holistic vision for Lower Puna and that reflects input from the affected HOA’s, long standing Puna civic groups, and the community by February 1, 2021
• Recover HWY 137 from its intersection with HWY 132 to Pohoiki by our third anniversary, May 3, 2021. This connectivity is needed to equitably restore access to marine resources for Puna and commercial fishers, access to agricultural lands, for public safety, and for access by essential services including fire, water rescue, and police.
• Explore opening alternative access through Railroad Avenue (including Cinder Road) to Kahala Street and (/or) Kehau Road for safety and connectivity of Lower Puna (per Resolution No. 732-18) by May 3, 2021.
• Recover Hinalo Street SW of Pohoiki Road and surrounding streets as appropriate by May 3, 2021.
• Direct the Board of Water Supply to use FEMA funds they have been granted to recover water service to areas that previously had County water – Hinalo, Pohoiki, and the area including and around Lower Kapoho.
• Develop and implement a Lighthouse Beach Road Management Plan that respects Hawaiian cultural sites and private properties, complies with Federal Section 106 requirements, and provides appropriate access and facilities for residents and visitors by January 2021. Funding for this plan should come from the HUD monies given this will be a public facility.
• Provide a cost-benefit analysis of housing plan alternatives, and devise a buyout plan that does not result in a checkerboard of public and private properties on lava inundated lands that is equitable for all property owners, and that includes a management plan, embracing the community’s vision.
• Release of the Economic Recovery plan which was completed by ISD many months ago.
• Issue monthly reports from the County posted for the public per the resolution County Council unanimously approved. The reports should include at a minimum: budget, projects in progress and future projects, timelines, and responsible parties for all action items.
After the letter was shared with media, it was announced that Hawai‘i County will receive $30.6 million in new federal disaster relief funding following the eruption. That is in addition the $83.84 million in CDBG-DR funds already allocated.
When asked for its response to the I Mua Lower Puna letter, the County of Hawaiʻi responded:
The letter from I Mua Lower Puna addresses timelines for recovery planning and projects, in addition to other topics. Below is an update on the timelines for some of the major recovery planning initiatives.
HUD Action Plan
The recovery team will be submitting its initial Action Plan addressing the use of $83.84 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds on the Aug. 31 deadline. The County is required to use the funds to address unmet housing needs and will be pursuing a voluntary buyout program and housing relocation services to assist displaced and affected residents.
The County received 92 written comments during the 30-day public comment period, with a significant majority in support of the buyout program. More information on public input and any changes to the Action Plan will be released on Aug. 31 when the plan is submitted. The County is required to meet that deadline as any extension requests must be related to COVID-19.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz recently announced that the County will receive an additional $23.72 million in CDBG-DR funds. Details and requirements regarding how the additional CDBG-DR funds can be used will be eventually outlined in a Federal Register notice. After that notice is published, the County will submit an amendment to the CDBG-DR Action Plan to show what programs those funds will support, in line with those requirements. That amendment will require additional community input.
Recovery and Resilience Plan
The buyout and housing relocation assistance programs also will fit within the Kīlauea Recovery and Resilience Plan. The plan addresses the strategies and initiatives that will guide the recovery process going forward. The recovery team is preparing to release this plan, in addition to a County-wide Volcanic Risk Assessment and Economic Recovery Plan, following additional consultation with the Disaster Recovery Task Force, an advisory group consisting of community and County representatives.
The Recovery and Resilience Plan includes projects that address the topics of recovery; disaster resilience; and community development and capacity building. It’s informed by input from more than 3,600 residents, including regular conversations with community groups, and technical data regarding volcanic hazards in Puna and across the island.
Some initiatives are County-led, while others are community-led and County supported. The recovery team appreciates all of the community input that has been received and we look forward to continue working with the community to implement these initiatives.
For more information, and to receive recovery updates, visit recovery.hawaiicounty.gov. The recovery team can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.