Despite discussion last month about possibly reopening Highway 137 in lower Puna, Mayor Harry Kim said Tuesday that lava cannot be cleared from the highway until more than six months have passed since Kilauea eruption’s pause.
Kim said the lava flows over the highway — which extend more than 5 miles north of Pohoiki Road and reach more than 50 feet high in some places — still contain a well-insulated core of dangerously hot lava, despite being cooled on the surface. Because of this, clearing the lava from the road cannot be safely done until more time has passed.
While county Managing Director Will Okabe said in September that contractor bids would be made before the end of that month, Kim said that statement was premature, and bids have not yet been solicited.
However, Kim said a temporary emergency access road into Pohoiki will be constructed within about two months. The proposed route would be accessible from near Mackenzie State Recreation Area and would not require the removal of the lava flow, but instead would be a graded road over parts of the flow, with sections of Highway 137 repaired for use along the route.
Because the emergency route would not involve clearing lava, the county would not have to wait six months to build the road nor would it be particularly expensive.
Kim emphasized that the emergency route would be temporary and would allow for access to papaya farms in Pohoiki.
While Kim said it is “kind of sad” that Isaac Hale Beach Park will remain inaccessible for the time being, he added that safety remains the county’s priority. In addition, because the park’s damaged water system has not been replaced or repaired, the park’s facilities would remain inoperable for visitors.
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