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Council advances Puna roads resolution

  • TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald Lava rock blocks Government Beach Road near Four Corners.

A room full of people displaced by the eruption in lower Puna had one request for Hawaii County on Thursday — help them get home.

“Please open up the highway,” said Adam Harms, who has to take a helicopter to get to his home off Highway 132, which is intact but isolated by lava. “My family just really wants to go home.”

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The testifiers were voicing support for a resolution before the County Council urging the county to make rebuilding Highway 132 a high priority, realign Government Beach Road and open the Railroad Avenue right of way to help residents access their property.

There was near unanimous support from the public as well as from the council, which voted 7-0 in favor while meeting as the Public Works &Parks and Recreation Committee. One more vote is required before the resolution, introduced by Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, is adopted.

County officials said restoration of Highway 132 is being assessed, though there are no plans at this time to start the reconstruction with public dollars before six months pass from the end of the eruption. That clock started ticking in early October when the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory lowered the volcano threat level.

The eruption on Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone lasted from May to September. More than 700 homes were destroyed.

In the meantime, Ron Whitmore, county deputy Research and Development director, said planning is underway, including aerial surveys.

“We understand this continues to be very difficult for people,” he said while addressing the council. “I know government sometimes appears to be bureaucratic in nature and almost always is slower moving than many of us would prefer.”

Testifiers said all they need is a temporary route over the lava rock to access their properties, some which were spared but now are isolated. Some noted people are offering to clear a path on their own and they just want the county to give them the OK.

“We don’t ask for much,” said Luana Jones, who lost her home. “We just need some roads in and we can take care of the rest.”

That appears to be complicated by a provision in Mayor Harry Kim’s latest emergency declaration that says clearing of lava rock with the intent of establishing “roads, trails, driveways or clearings for any purpose” is prohibited.

So far, a temporary road is only being built over lava rock now covering Highway 137 between Pohoiki and MacKenzie State Recreation Area in order to allow access to property owners in that area and potentially Isaac Hale Beach Park. It’s not clear if the declaration affects that work.

Several council members voiced support for allowing some form of temporary access to properties along Highway 132 and in Kapoho.

“I don’t believe in studies when people are struggling,” said Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter, who urged the county to see this as emergency access rather than restoration.

“Just do it, and fix what we need to do,” she added, “to make it even better.”

Allan Simeon, county Public Works director, noted the flow field is thicker over Highway 132 and covers a larger area, which complicates restoration. Bulldozer operators are finding hot spots still over the flow field on Highway 137, he said.

Lava rock is an effective insulator, geologists say.

Janet Babb, HVO spokeswoman, said in an email to the Tribune-Herald that the interior of a thick flow can remain molten for years.

Some speakers said they identified areas that are feasible to cut across.

O’Hara said the intent of the resolution is to shift the discussion at the county to more immediate needs.

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“I want to see you guys get home and get back to your farms and get back to living a normal life once again,” she said.

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