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Bulldozing begins on Highway 137; temporary road over lava rock to be used by landowners, area residents first

  • Grading of a temporary road over lava rock covering Highway 137 near MacKenzie State Recreation Area began Friday. TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald

The start of construction of a temporary road over a portion of Highway 137 covered by this year’s lava flows was welcome news to Leilani Estates resident Michael Brant.

After withstanding the months-long Kilauea eruption, which destroyed more than 700 homes and upended communities in lower Puna, he said he was looking forward to seeing road access restored to Isaac Hale Beach Park, which remains isolated.

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“This will really usher in a better transition for people to get back to being more calm and peaceful with themselves and their neighbors,” he said.

But when the general public will be able to use the graded route over the lava rock remains to be seen.

Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman for Mayor Harry Kim, said in a voicemail Saturday the road will be meant for “emergency use by residents and landowners only, at least initially.”

She said she can’t say yet when the road, which could take weeks to complete, would be open to the general public. A barricade remains in place on the highway next to the entrance to MacKenzie State Recreation Area.

Bulldozing by Sanborn General Contracting began Friday on a portion of a hardened lava flow field that first covered Highway 137 between MacKenzie and Isaac Hale Beach Park in late May. Heat continues to radiate out from the ground in some locations.

No decisions have been made about reopening Issac Hale, though residents have been hiking there to see the new black sand beach.

Snyder said the temporary road will eventually go to the park “but that’s way down the line. There’s no ETA on that either.”

The eruption, which began May 3 on Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone, also has covered portions of Pohoiki Road, Highway 132 and Highway 137 near the former Kapoho subdivisions. Lava hasn’t been seen inside the fissures since September.

Some residents also are asking the county to make roads over other parts of the flow field so more properties can be accessed.

An online petition requesting the county to fund road access to Kapoho has received about 1,500 signatures.

Kim has said the county will wait six months from the stop of the eruption to assess whether the highways can be restored. If not, then more temporary roads could be considered, he said.

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, who has been critical of the county’s response to the eruption, said she will introduce a resolution encouraging the county to make planning and funding for restoration of Highway 132 a priority and develop alternate routes to realign Government Beach Road and open the Railroad Avenue evacuation route.

O’Hara said she wants to get it on the Nov. 1 council committee agenda.

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“You got thousands of property owners who are now unable to access their property and yet they still own them,” she said earlier this month.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.