Mayor Harry Kim estimates the price tag for repairing roads covered by lava could be more than $30 million.
When Hawaii County will be able to clear the roads, mainly highways 132 and 137, remains unknown. That will depend on whether the lava that remains insulated under the rock has cooled enough to remove.
Kim said that assessment will be done once there has been six months with no volcanic activity. In some places, the rock rises 40 to 60 feet, he said.
Kim said the county still wants within a couple of months to create a temporary access road over some of the flows on the Kalapana side of Highway 137 so that Isaac Hale Beach Park and farms can be reached. That would be done by grading the top of the obstruction but not removing all of it.
“That will happen as soon as the contractor takes a look at when he can safely work on making it halfway level,” he said.
Kim noted that rock remains quite hot.
“We went down there to review it and I think everyone was quite surprised how hot that rock was,” he said. “We can’t fathom how far down we have to go on (Highway 132) before literally we hit liquid lava.”
Kim said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of the cost for restoring roads, but not for creating temporary access routes. Only Highway 130 in lower Puna belongs to the state.
If, after six months, roads can’t be cleared, he said the county might have to consider more temporary routes.
Jason Twillman, a lower Puna resident, said he thinks the county should start putting in roads now, noting that homes remain isolated by the flows.
“We want some gravel roads so people can drive their cars to their homes,” he said.
Even when Isaac Hale Beach Park is accessible by road again, that might not help fishermen who used the boat ramp now blocked by a new black sand beach at that location, also known as Pohoiki.
According to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, no decisions have been made regarding dredging sand to open the ramp.
Kim said he thinks the state should consider a new location because of how dangerous the ramp was in the past with boats sharing space with swimmers.
“I don’t think Pohoiki harbor pier is a good place for that,” he said. “It never was; it was the best place at the time.”
State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura said she has been meeting with fishermen regarding the ramp’s fate. She said the waters off Puna are known to have some of the best fishing grounds in the state.
San Buenaventura, D-Puna, said the Legislature approved $250,000 for a safe swim study at Pohoiki, which could be tapped for this issue.
“There is already a commitment for a safe swim study,” she said. “The only question is now that the disaster has come in whether we need to amend that to take into account boating-related issues.”
Either way, she said it’s going to take a long time to sort out.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.