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County, state legislators working on plan for special session to help Puna

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Members of Hawaii County Civil Defense, Hawaii Police Department and USGS monitor lava that was threatening Highway 137 on May 19.

A special session of the state Legislature to help lava-ravaged Puna is being mulled for mid-August as Hawaii County works with legislators to put a plan together.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, said Tuesday that first the state and county must come up with a plan to present to legislative leadership. It’s likely to be a mix of funding requests and changes to law, he said.

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“We don’t have a proposal at this point in time,” Ruderman said. “We have to build the ask.”

Ruderman said he met with Senate leadership Monday to discuss a possible timeline for a special session, which could last a week.

Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, D-Puna, said either legislative leadership or the governor can call a special session.

“They’re waiting for the county to make a specific plan,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige said there’s no immediate information on a special session.

“The governor has been working very closely with Mayor Kim and knows that the recovery efforts will take time and be costly,” said spokeswoman Jodi Leong.

Ige pledged $12 million so far for the crisis.

“He will continue to work with federal, state, county and private sector partners to ensure an effective, efficient response to short- and long-term community needs,” Leong said.

The County Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution asking that a special session be scheduled.

“The economic impact is being felt throughout the island. It’s being felt throughout the state to be honest,” said Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, the sponsor of the resolution. “We certainly hope the Legislature will convene a special session. There’s a lot of work going on … to come up with some plans for short-term housing and long-term housing so we can respond to this disaster in a meaningful and hopefully timely manner.”

Among those pushing for a special session is Amedeo Markoff, a business owner and board member of the Pahoa Mainstreet Association. He said six Pahoa businesses already are closing because they can’t afford to keep doors open.

“Pahoa is hurting right now and businesses here are in danger of failing,” Markoff said. “We need some assistance.”

Former Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole also pushed for the special session.

“We need to take care of what we need to take care of,” Naeole said. “Please consider it, it’s very important.”

In addition to an estimated $5 million in lost property taxes from Puna for the coming year, the county also faces about $2 million monthly in emergency response costs, most of which will be reimbursed by the federal and state governments.

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It’s not yet known how the extended lava flow and resultant ash and vog is affecting tourism, the island’s largest economic engine. Some estimate that hotel bookings are down by half.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.