Hawaii County will remove its remaining checkpoints on roads in lower Puna next week, but some restrictions may still apply for nonresidents entering Leilani Estates.
Mayor Harry Kim said the checkpoints — one at the intersection of Leilani Avenue and Highway 130 and another on Highway 132 near Pohoiki Road — will end Thursday, the same day the county opens the new emergency route over some of the lava-covered portions of Highway 137.
The barriers were put in place for public safety and to control access to areas impacted by the recent eruption on Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone. They were most recently scheduled to be removed at the end of November after Kim extended the contract with Jan-Guard Hawaii for one more month.
He said he extended the deadline for almost another week because the county needed more time to order signs that say the subdivision is for residents only. The opening of the Highway 137 route and Isaac Hale Beach Park at the same time might make the neighborhood, where the eruption started May 3, less of an attraction, Kim noted.
Leilani remains designated a voluntary evacuation area, with access authorized for residents only, until the county’s emergency proclamation lapses Dec. 29, said Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant in the mayor’s office. Kim said he hasn’t decided if it will be extended again.
He said he has asked county police to make patrols in the neighborhood, but reporting violators might fall onto the shoulders of the neighborhood association, which is suing the county over control of Leilani Avenue and is asking a federal judge to keep the checkpoint in place.
Jay Turkovsky, Leilani Estates Community Association president, said the loss of the checkpoint remains a major concern.
He said the issues for the association are theft and being inundated by visitors hoping to see the lava flow field and fissures that covered the lower portion of the neighborhood.
Turkovsky said burglaries of homes that remain empty following the disaster are occurring even with the checkpoint in place. Most of the lava covers private property, he said.
“I can understand their concerns,” Kim said. “Ours is based on the threat and hazards of the lava and fumes. Once that is gone, our responsibility is over.”
Lava was last seen inside fissure 8, located in Leilani, on Sept. 5.
The security checkpoints cost between $12,500 and $14,000 per week each, Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said in October. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been covering 75 percent of those costs.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.