(BIVN) – An Environmental Assessment will be needed in order to restore upper Pohoiki Road, and realign lower Pohoiki Road. The Puna road was inundated by lava during the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea on the lower East Rift Zone.
It has been nearly a year since the Federal Emergency Management Agency accepted the final design for the upper Pohoiki Road restoration project. In March 2021, a Scope of Work for the Lower Pohoiki Road realignment was submitted to FEMA.
From the County of Hawaiʻi:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has informed the County of Hawai‘i that an Environmental Assessment is required for the restoration of Pohoiki Road.
The decision by FEMA follows multiple rounds of discussion with the County regarding how the upper road restoration project relates to a planned realignment of the lower portion of Pohoiki Road, with the latter being considered an alternate project. Both are supported by a FEMA Public Assistance grant following the 2018 Kīlauea eruption.
“While FEMA began its review of the road restoration project by itself late last year, the process has evolved to both Pohoiki Road projects being looked at together and an Environmental Assessment being required as part of the federal agency’s Environmental and Historic Preservation (EHP) review process,” said Douglas Le, the County’s Disaster Recovery Officer.
FEMA accepted final design for the upper Pohoiki Road restoration project in October 2020 and began its EHP review process for the project in December 2020. The Scope of Work for the lower Pohoiki Road realignment was submitted in March in response to information requests from FEMA’s review team. Design for the alternate project is about 30% complete.
FEMA says the additional assessment will take about six months for it to complete and that it is working to start the process as soon as possible. The Environmental Assessment will address both Pohoiki Road projects plus the possibility of water service being restored down Pohoiki Road to Isaac Hale Beach Park.
The County most recently anticipated receiving FEMA approval to begin construction on the road restoration project in October 2021. Timelines will be updated as more information is available; however, tentatively, the County anticipates the Environmental Assessment being completed in early 2022 followed by a notice to proceed and construction starting in mid-2022.
“The Department of Public Works and Disaster Recovery Division under the Planning Department have worked closely with FEMA to identify ways to expedite the review process for infrastructure restoration following the 2018 eruption,” said Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst. “That includes receiving FEMA approval last year to submit individual restoration projects for review as recovery decisions are made.
“The restoration of Pohoiki Road, and other road projects such as Highway 137, remain a priority, and we will continue to work with our federal partners to find ways to streamline these processes while meeting regulatory requirements.”
In total, the 2018 eruption inundated about 13 miles of public roads, including 2.4 miles of Pohoiki Road. FEMA approved a $61.5 million Public Assistance grant in March 2020 to cover 75% of the anticipated damage estimate to the affected public roads, not including Highway 132 that was restored with Federal Highway Administration funding in 2019.
The lower Pohoiki Road realignment is supported by the FEMA grant as an alternate project as that section wasn’t inundated during the eruption. The project involves straightening the lower portion of the road to provide safe two-way access while protecting historic mango trees on that route.