County considers lava bridge

Hawaii County is looking at its options should the June 27 lava flow cover Highway 130, from removing a portion of the road beforehand to use of a temporary span after the flow has moved through.

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Hawaii County is looking at its options should the June 27 lava flow cover Highway 130, from removing a portion of the road beforehand to use of a temporary span after the flow has moved through.

County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said a request for assistance has been made to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help the county devise any solutions to the obstacle.

It’s unclear if a temporary span could be built over the flow, either if it remained active or inactive, or if that has been done before anywhere else. But county officials say they are trying to keep options open.

“We’re asking if something could be constructed,” said Kevin Dayton, county spokesman. “We don’t know” if that’s possible.

Oliveira said the county is also looking at removing a portion of the highway before it’s hit by lava, an event that could be weeks or more away if the flow remains active.

The idea is that restoring the natural topography there would prevent lava from pooling along the road, which might act as a berm if left in place.

That in turn could help keep the lava’s path more narrow over the route and allow it to cool sooner should the flow stop. County officials say that could make it easier for crews to re-establish the highway, the lifeline for lower Puna.

Such a move, if allowed by the state Department of Transportation, would be the first attempt at affecting the flow in any way, though it is unlikely to impact its direction.

County officials have made it clear at public meetings they are not interested in diverting lava for fear that such actions would simply threaten other communities.

Instead of directly affecting nature, the approach the county is considering would involve removing a “man-made obstacle,” Oliveira said.

Nothing is set in stone, he said. “We’ll just keep on working on our plans going forward.”

County, state and private contractors are completing work on two alternate routes makai of the highway.

Railroad Avenue would serve as the main arterial from Nanawale Estates to Hawaiian Paradise Park, with packed gravel between subdivisions. Government Beach Road will also be available as a one-lane road with turnouts.

But it may be a matter of time before those routes are also claimed by lava, and work began Tuesday on building a path through a nearly 8-mile stretch of Chain of Craters Road already covered by lava rock.

A Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist estimated Tuesday evening that the flow could take months to reach Railroad Avenue and Government Beach Road.

Chain of Craters Road is expected to be open, at least at first as one-lane gravel route, in 45 to 60 days. It’s anticipated to cost between $7 million and $10 million.

The other routes may cost as much as $2 million.

Many lower Puna residents are faced with deciding whether to relocate or try to make use of the alternate routes.

Hawaiian Beaches/Shores residents Rob and Tia Yagi said they are fortunate enough to find a house to rent in Hilo but are still faced with paying their mortgage.

The Yagis also said they can’t leave too soon without affecting their home insurance policy.

But with a 2-month-old son, they also say they can’t take chances.

Tia Yagi said she wasn’t too concerned about losing their house to lava.

“She (Pele) can have all she wants as long as I have my family,” she said.

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As of Tuesday evening, HVO geologists were projecting the lava will eventually cross Kahakai Boulevard and cut through the southwest corner of Hawaiian Beaches if it remains active.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

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