Mayor to lawmakers: Fixing Highway 132 is ‘No. 1 priority.’

  • Harry Kim

A bill to provide state funding for restoring lava-covered portions of Highway 132 cleared its first committee Wednesday at the state Capitol.

The Senate Committee on Transportation voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 1298, which provides $15 million for restoration. It will next be heard by Ways and Means.

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Rebuilding the highway would restore access to about 50 properties with dwellings that have been identified as isolated by lava from last year’s eruption on Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone. More than 700 homes were destroyed.

Several others are isolated in a kipuka off Pohoiki Road.

Residents have been frustrated with the lack of progress in reconnecting them to their homes.

In his written testimony, Mayor Harry Kim called the road a “No. 1 priority.”

“Planning is already underway,” he wrote.

“We are now waiting for the six-month period of lava cessation to lapse, after which we can file our formal application for construction. We fully expect that the federal government will pick up the cost of rebuilding Highway 132.”

Kim has said the county will wait six months after the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory lowered its alert level for Kilauea before rebuilding infrastructure.

The waiting period, imposed by the county, will end in April.

A temporary road was built over some lava-covered areas of Highway 137 last December, though flows in that area were less thick and extensive.

The county owns Highway 132, a state Department of Transportation representative said during the meeting.

As for temporary roads, Diane Ley, county Research and Development director, said last week that multiple options are still being considered, whether by creating a temporary road over the right of way or through private lands.

“Pretty much everything is on the table,” she said.

Ley said Hawaii County Public Works was asked to survey the highway. However, it’s unclear when or if a decision on a temporary road will be made.

Luana Jones, who lost her home on Pohoiki Road to lava, was the only Puna resident to testify in Honolulu. The meeting was broadcast live on Olelo TV.

She said residents with isolated homes are having to pay double for housing since they might have to rent elsewhere.

“The road to recovery starts with a road for all those people there,” Jones said.

Puna Geothermal Venture built its own road over the lava channel through land it leases after receiving a grubbing and grading permit.

PGV and its landowner, Kapoho Land Partnership, have been discussing how to use that road to connect with their neighbors.

In his testimony, KLP manager Lono Lyman noted that reopening Highway 132 is the “most straightforward solution.”

KLP owns much of the other lava-covered properties in the area. Lyman said about 650 acres of papaya fields on his lands are inaccessible.

Pohoiki Road and other portions of Highway 137 remain covered by lava.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, Ka‘u, introduced the bill.

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“Ten to one, people who contact me about the lava, opening 132 is by far the subject brought up most,” Ruderman said.

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

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