Gov. David Ige said at a news conference Monday that a much-discussed lava viewing area might be built outside of the Puna district — comments that were clarified Wednesday by Ige’s staff.
Tuesday afternoon, Ige confirmed that plans for an official lava viewing area are in the works, but did not specify the site’s location.
When asked whether it would be appropriate to create a tourist destination in an area where residents are still unable to return home, however, Ige responded by saying the viewing area would not need to be in Puna.
“It wouldn’t be down in that area,” Ige said. “You can see the lava flow from Hilo, so it’s anything on that side of the island.”
“Obviously, it would not be down in Puna, specifically,” he went on.
Contrary to Ige’s statement, while the glow from the lava flow is visible from Hilo, the lava itself is not viewable in Hilo.
Ige’s communication director, Cindy McMillan, clarified Ige’s remarks, saying that the governor meant that the viewing area would not be in the evacuated area, specifically, and his comment regarding Hilo was not intended as a suggestion that the viewing area would be built in Hilo.
While a viewing area close to the lava brings logistical problems, the closer it is to Puna communities, the better, said Matt Purvis, a Pahoa business owner and head of the Mainstreet Pahoa Association.
Purvis said his business, the Tin Shack Bakery, lost approximately 50 percent of its business following the eruption. Other businesses in Pahoa are doing even worse, Purvis said.
Purvis said he was confused by Ige’s choice of words, but added that he will wait and see what the county decides for an eventual viewing area.
Opening a tourist location near Pahoa would greatly help restore local businesses, where many lava evacuees still work, Purvis said. One obvious choice, he said, is near the Lava Tree State Monument, located directly north of Leilani Estates.
“If it opens farther away, it will still help us some,” Purvis said. “People will still be coming to the island, people could still come here. But it would be better if it’s in Puna.”
County officials are evaluating potential locations for a viewing area, but will not confirm any location until such factors as safety, traffic control, air quality and security can be determined.
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