Friday, March 01, 2024|
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After being approved by Hawaii County Council late last month, a plan to improve connectivity in Upper Puna is now in the hands of the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Public Works.
“The plan has been completed, and now it’s time to implement it,” said Puna councilman Greggor Ilagan on Tuesday. “Finishing the document is a good step forward.”
“The next step is to really go to the departments and push on it, because now we’ve got the full support of the council,” he said.
Ilagan established an ad hoc committee in August 2015 to address the district’s connectivity problem, an issue that was previously raised as Puna was creating its master Community Development Plan in the mid-2000s. No action was taken at that time.
Upper Puna has more than a dozen subdivisions. They were constructed separately from one another, creating a current situation that is a safety hazard.
In 2013, a CDP subcommittee began working with Hawaii County Civil Defense to gather community input on road conditions and routes used to access Highway 11.
Connectivity and emergency routes became more pressing after the June 27 lava flow in 2014.
The connectivity proposals put forth by the ad hoc committee would “assist in response to floods, fires, automobile accidents or other emergencies that block critical roads,” according to a final environmental assessment that addresses three of the improvement projects.
The assessment was requested by the Department of Public Works and focuses on improving emergency access for Fern Acres and its nearby subdivisions.
Two projects are improving and extending South Lauko Road and South Pszyk Road so each extends from Volcano Highway to Puhala Road.
Many roads in the subdivisions are privately owned. The county would need to establish Memoranda of Understanding between community associations or create easements to fully implement the connectivity plan.
South Lauko and South Pszyk are county roads, however. Any alternative connection to Volcano Highway would “require extensive land acquisition and complete new road construction, costing significantly more money and time, and potentially involving acquisition under eminent domain,” according to the environmental assessment.
The third improvement project extends Puhala Road so it connects to South Kopua Road. Puhala Road is a private road owned by Fern Acres, but it is open to the public.
All three roads are paved in portions. Other portions are gravel or paper roads with the right-of-way area overgrown by weeds.
The EA states that determinations on which projects, or combinations of projects, to complete would be made by Public Works after discussions with affected landowners, taking comment from the public and assessing available funds.
“When the budget comes around next fiscal year, the discussion can be where to put the money for those recommendations,” Ilagan said. He said the department also could seek grants.
Estimates for project costs vary from $107,000 to $6.5 million, the latter including all three projects as well as the cost of designing bridges or fords to cross streams.
Public Works director Warren Lee could not immediately be reached for comment.
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