.


County to get $10 million for lava recovery

Hawaii County will receive a $10 million grant from the state to help it kick-start recovery efforts in Puna following the Kilauea eruption.

The County Council voted to accept the money Tuesday by adopting a resolution.

ADVERTISING


A communication filed with the measure says the funds are for protection of “health, safety and welfare of area residents, and for relocation planning for residents and agricultural enterprises adversely impacted by the volcanic eruption.”

The county previously received $12 million from the state for disaster response, of which about $4 million is left, said Deanna Sako, county finance director.

The latest transfer, approved by Gov. David Ige, follows an unsuccessful attempt by the county to get a special session of the state Legislature to address recovery efforts for the lava-hit area.

Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, said in an email that the county will still seek about $150 million to fund recovery efforts in the next legislative session that begins in January.

As for federal funds, a “work in progress budget” identifies about $480 million for long-term recovery that will be requested, he said.

The combined $22 million received from the state so far will help cover the county’s “immediate needs” through the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2019, according to a draft aid request Takemoto provided to the Tribune-Herald.

Sako told council members that the latest grant would go toward economic impact and relocation studies and housing vouchers.

Uses for the grants, according to the draft aid request, include sustaining emergency operations, planning studies for recovery and mitigation, potential temporary housing site and Section 8 vouchers, economic recovery plan and emergency shelter restoration.

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara asked during the meeting if the latest grant can be used to restore roads covered during the 4-month-long eruption, which destroyed more than 700 homes.

“I’m hearing studies but no direct expenditures on road recovery or a lava viewing site,” O’Hara said.

Sako said a public viewing site of the eruption area wouldn’t qualify since it’s not related to recovery. She noted federal funds would cover most of the road restoration work.

Money for replacing lost infrastructure, including roads, is listed among the county’s “priority needs” it will raise during the legislative session, according to the draft request.

Road restoration was a priority for displaced Puna residents who testified earlier.

They were commenting in favor of a resolution, which the council passed, urging the county to prioritize rebuilding Highway 132, much of which is covered under a thick field of lava rock, and make other alternate routes.

About 50 residences and farms are now isolated because of the lava rock.

Testifiers repeated their request for a temporary road over Highway 132 so they can access their properties.

“The road to recovery starts with a road,” said Smiley Burrows, who owns Kapoho Crater, otherwise known as Green Mountain.

Ron Whitmore, county Research and Development deputy director, said the county is reviewing protocols that would need to be followed when considering construction of a temporary road over private property. It’s not yet clear how soon such a road could be approved.

O’Hara, who introduced the resolution, said she was glad that it was starting the conversation.

“I’m very happy this resolution sparked a lot of interest,” she said.

ADVERTISING


“It’s getting the wheels turning. That’s what I feel this resolution was intended to do.”

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