County reopening popular Puna beach park

  • U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY photo In this photo from Aug. 31, a sand bar, comprised of black sand and lava fragments carried by longshore currents from the lava delta, blocks the boat ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated the lower East Rift Zone eruption ended in early August. Lava was no longer causing destruction of developed property at that point, but was still visible within fissure No. 8 until early September. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has not declared an official end to the eruptive activity. The Tribune-Herald regrets the error.

One of lower Puna’s most popular beach parks will officially reopen next week after a six-month-plus closure because of lava.

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Isaac Hale Beach Park, also known as Pohoiki beach park, will reopen at 1 p.m. Dec. 6 after a blessing ceremony, the county Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement Tuesday.

The public is invited to attend the blessing.

Department of Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen acknowledged that while the park remains officially closed, people have been hiking into the park daily since the pause of Kilauea volcano’s lower East Rift Zone eruption in early September.

The emergency access roadway to the Pohoiki area, which is located on Highway 137 near MacKenzie State Park, will open at noon Dec. 6 and will remain open until further notice.

The Department of Public Works advises drivers to use caution while driving on the emergency road.

“It’s an emergency access road … ,” Waltjen said. “It’s not a paved road, like a highway or anything like that.”

After the official reopening, the park will be open daily between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and there will be no camping until further notice. There will be a 24-hour security presence, Waltjen said.

“We’re opening up the park as a family park. No (alcohol), no drugs,” she said, and added the goal is to “promote a family atmosphere so everyone can enjoy this area.”

The park will not have an available water source, as lava damaged the county water lines leading to the park, and park users are advised to bring their own water.

“If we wanted to wait for an available water source, we don’t know when we would be able to open the park,” said Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Maurice Messina.

Added Waltjen, “We’re hoping that people will bring their own water in so they can hydrate.”

Four portable toilets, including one that meets Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements, are on site, Waltjen said.

The lava flow created four ocean thermal ponds, similar to the warm pond at Ahalanui that was inundated by lava earlier this year. The Department of Health has posted a sign notifying park-goers that these ponds are not disinfected and, due to the risk of bacterial infections, those with open wounds shouldn’t enter the ponds.

Those who choose to ignore the warning do so at their own risk, Waltjen and Messina said.

The park sports a new black sand beach which was created by the eruption. The new beach has a dangerous shore break with ocean currents that could cause injury, and those entering the ocean do so at their own risk, officials said.

Pohoiki boat ramp, which belongs to the state but is accessed by land through the county park, remains completely blocked by the black sand, according to Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison.

Dennison said in a Tuesday email DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation “is evaluating the means of obtaining funds to hire a consultant and a coastal engineer” to determine the future of the ramp, which was the launch point for commercial fishing and lava-viewing boats.

“A study must be done to determine the amount of material currently in the channel and on either side to determine a more accurate quantity of how much material will need to be dredged in order to make the boat ramp functional,” Dennison said. “This needs to be compared to the cost of constructing a new boat ramp facility elsewhere. If the cost of dredging is substantially more than building a new ramp facility, (the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation) will pursue development of a new boat ramp site.”

Dennison said if dredging the boat channel is found to be feasible, the Legislature would need to provide funding, permits would need to be required, and either an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement would need to be performed.

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Another consideration, Dennison said, is whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency would approve partial funding for a project, should one materialize.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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