Administration updates county council members on plans for lava viewing platform

“Managing expectations” will be key to the success of a public-private partnership to create a lava viewing area now that the lava flow in lower Puna has subsided.

County administration on Tuesday laid out its plans to create a lava viewing platform and a short trail just past Lava Tree State Monument near the “Y” where Highway 132 meets Pohoiki Road. From there, people will be able to see the vast expanse of lava and fissure 8, which is currently inactive.

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The project is still a few months away, as one component must go through the permitting process and another out for competitive bids. The cost has not yet been determined, but officials asked for funding in the county’s disaster relief package to the state Legislature.

Mayor Harry Kim sought to open up viewing area much sooner, while the lava was active, but consultations with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and others convinced the county it was too dangerous.

“A few weeks into the event, the mayor said we need to share the majesties of this historic geologic event,” said county Research and Development Director Diane Ley, adding the hoped-for outcome is a “managed viewing site that is respectful of adjacent properties and residences, respectful of our environment … and provide(s) opportunities to businesses within and outside Pahoa.”

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, whose district includes most of the area inundated by the lava flow, asked for the update. O’Hara has pushed to help businesses suffering from loss of income after the lava flow emergency.

There might be less to see now, but Barrett Otani, one of Kim’s executive assistants, envisions a cultural and geological experience that could be duplicated around the island. There could be such a center celebrating Kona coffee, for example, or the Honokaa paniolo.

The plan includes county-contracted shuttle buses to ferry passengers from a parking lot in downtown Pahoa to a cultural center at a location know as “the Hub,” across from Pahoa High and Intermediate School. The center, on property owned by Gilbert Aguinaldo, would feature exhibits, a movie theater, eateries, a gift shop and cultural displays to educate the public. It would rent space out to nonprofits.

The center would consist of tents until a permanent structure could be built. The shuttles would then progress to the lava viewing site.

The cultural center was unveiled Aug. 30 during a meeting of federal, state and local officials, tourism leaders and property owners. The meeting, hosted at Liko Lehua Pauahi cafe in Hilo, was organized by Mainstreet Pahoa.

“It’s been a frustration for everybody,” Ley said. “Businesses saw it as a loss of commercial activity … families … even practitioners were concerned that they weren’t allowed to get close to the lava.”

Council members asked few questions about the plan.

“Right now, it’s all very fluid. Lets just keep pushing forward,” said Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy.

Ley said a key will be “re-education of people and their expectations if we don’t have flowing lava.”

Lee Loy agreed, saying she hopes some of the areas can be left pristine.

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“I think the most important thing is to manage the expectations,” Lee Loy said.

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

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