Disaster dollars: Council asked to add projects for eruption, hurricane damage to budget

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Steam rises from an empty Pu'u 'O'o on May 16.

The Hawaii County Council is being asked to add projects related to damage caused by recent disasters to the capital budget and accept funds for a recovery plan for Puna.

The bills being submitted by the county administration don’t include a list of proposed projects, but the cost estimates total $82.1 million, of which 75 percent would be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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The funds, if later allocated, would be used to address repairs to public infrastructure as a result of damage from the Kilauea eruption and Hurricane Lane.

Surprisingly, the cost estimates for projects related to Lane ($49.2 million) are higher than those for the eruption ($32.9 million).

Finance Director Deanna Sako said those figures are estimates based on damage to public infrastructure from the disasters, and anticipated projects. She suggested they may not be final, and noted there are “alternate projects” related to the eruption that aren’t yet included.

“It might evolve,” Sako said. “For now, it gives us a chance to start spending.”

Adding the projects to the budget doesn’t guarantee the funds will be spent, but it is necessary to pave the way for FEMA assistance.

She said the county hasn’t received any FEMA funds yet, including for reimbursement of operational costs during the eruption.

Sako said the big-ticket items related to the eruption are restorations of Highway 137, Lighthouse Road and Government Beach Road.

Restoration of Highway 132 is not included, she said, since that may be covered by the Federal Highways Administration instead of FEMA.

As for the hurricane, which caused flooding in East Hawaii but no wind damage, projects include road and bridge repairs or assessments, she said. That may also include damage to county facilities, such as parks.

The budget amendments are being asked to be placed on the Jan. 9 County Council agenda, along with acceptance of $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help fund an economic recovery plan for lower Puna.

The county plans to request about $160 million from the state Legislature this session to help Puna recover from the eruption, which destroyed more than 700 homes.

Federal community development block grant appropriations also are being sought for long-term recovery efforts. As of November, that request was estimated at $480 million.

Mayor Harry Kim said Thursday the county will need the assistance of Hawaii’s congressional delegation.

“I’m afraid that’s highly political,” he said.

“We’ll depend on our senators to carry the ball.”

The economic adjustment assistance grant from Commerce requires a $250,000 match from the county.

The funds will be used to “create an economic recovery plan to provide relief, recovery and relocation strategies,” Sako wrote to Council Chairman Aaron Chung.

Diane Ley, county Research and Development director, said those strategies will be informed by a risk assessment being done by the Pacific Disaster Center.

“We are anticipating to have something back in the first quarter (of 2019),” Ley said, regarding the assessment, which will address future risks of public and private investment in the area due to the volcano.

That will then inform the county whether or not it rebuilds infrastructure, including roads, she said, and if some property owners should be bought out.

Ley said the public will be involved in those decisions.

As for ongoing outreach, she said the county will continue talk story sessions with small groups in Puna through January.

“We’re getting good feedback,” Ley said.

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“What we hope to do in January is summarize that feedback and take that back out to the community.”

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

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