Leilani residents mull how to control entry into lava-ravaged area

  • This Hawaiian Volcano Observatory comparison shows satellite images of Leilani Estates subdivision before and after Kilauea's eruption in lower Puna. The image on the right, from early September, shows that the eastern portion of the subdivision has been covered by lava. The fissure 8 lava channel runs northeast from the fissure 8 cone at the start of the channel. Note also the brown areas of dead vegetation south of the lava flow. Highway 130 runs north-south along the left side of the images.

A plan to erect a permanent gate controlling access to Leilani Estates threatens to divide subdivision residents both figuratively and literally.

Now that the mandatory evacuation order for Leilani Estates has been lifted, the question of how to control access to the lava-ravaged subdivision has been an open one. For the time being, residents are required to present placards at a checkpoint at the intersection of Highway 130 and Leilani Avenue in order to enter, a precaution that keeps visitors hoping to see the cooled lava at bay.

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“Now that the (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park) has reopened, the question (visitors) keep asking is, ‘How do we get to fissure 8?’” said Jay Turkovsky, Leilani Estates Community Association president.

To better control access to the subdivision, Turkovsky said the community association is seeking to enter a memorandum of understanding with Hawaii County to be granted control of Leilani Avenue. This would allow the association to set up a gate along the road that only residents would be allowed to open.

While Turkovsky said the county appears amicable to such an arrangement — the association has been maintaining the road since the lower Puna eruption began, and it would allow the county to shut down the road’s costly checkpoint — the proposal has stirred some residents of the subdivision.

Leilani resident Cheryl Carroll said the association has not taken a vote from the membership before pursuing the gate proposal.

Carroll said she is unconvinced that the subdivision requires protection from a theoretical horde of tourists and looters and that a gate would be insufficient protection in any case.

“You hear people say, ‘Oh, people robbed two houses in the last two days,’” Carroll said. “Well, if people are getting in when (the checkpoint) is taking down people’s names and license plate numbers, how is a gate going to stop them?”

It is a related proposal, however, that worries Carroll more.

Turkovsky said the association will, for liability reasons, erect concrete barriers on all subdivision roads where they meet the lava flows. However, the association also will barricade several streets surrounding one section of the subdivision, cutting off several blocks from the rest of the subdivision entirely.

Section I of Leilani Estates — comprising Kahukai Street south of Leilani Avenue, Hapuu Street, about half of Kula Street and the stretch of Malama Street connecting those three roads — is not part of the community association. If the association is to maintain control of access to Leilani, Turkovsky said the association will have to barricade access from Section I into the rest of the subdivision — Section II — in order to prevent drivers from entering the greater part of the subdivision through Malama Street.

“It’s unfortunate, because I know there’s a lot of people in Section I who would like to join Section II,” Turkovsky said. “But other people in Section I don’t.”

Carroll, herself a resident of Section II, said the general membership of the subdivision is not aware of the barricading plan, explaining that few have attended the monthly community meetings because of the general community upheaval following the eruption. However, Carroll said she has put together a group of residents — informally called the Committee to Oppose the Incorporation of Leilani Avenue, or COIL —to raise the issue at the next community meeting on Thursday.

“So many residents in both Section I and Section II do not want a Berlin Wall cutting our community in half, and blocking friends and neighbors from free access to each other, especially during this time of recovery when we all need ohana,” wrote Carroll in a letter sent to all Hawaii County’s council members, urging them to deny the association’s request for control over Leilani Avenue.

“It’s just ironic, after months of begging the county for transparency, now we’re fighting with our own community association,” Carroll said.

Ultimately, the issue will be decided by a community vote once the details of the arrangement with the county are determined, Turkovsky said.

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“Everyone thinks they’re in the majority,” Turkovsky said. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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