Bernhardt shares recovery options, says decision on long-term solution for HVO still ‘months away’

  • Tina Neal, Hawaii Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge, left, points out the collapse of Kilauea caldera to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, center, on Thursday at Hawaii National Volcanoes Park. (Courtesy of DOI/Tami A. Heilemann)
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt talks with the media Thursday after touring damage sustained during the Kilauea 2018 eruption at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt talks with the media Thursday after touring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

After a tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Thursday, the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior discussed his observations about the still-visible damage the park sustained during the Kilauea eruption last year and how the park might recover from it.

David Bernhardt first commended the park’s employees for weathering the difficult period of the eruption, but went on to say that how the park will recover from the eruption will depend upon a number of decisions that have yet to be made.

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For example, Bernhardt said the scope and timeline for further federal funding depends largely on how Congress votes regarding a hotly contested disaster aid bill that would provide $19 billion to cities beset by natural disasters.

The package would allocate $78 million to the National Park Service specifically to aid in recovery from 2018 disasters, and another $72 million to repair U.S. Geological Survey facilities damaged in 2018.

On Thursday, a lone Republican representative blocked the bipartisan package for a third time in less than a week. However, Bernhardt says he thinks Congress “is headed in the right direction” to eventually award the appropriations.

Even if it doesn’t pass, however, Bernhardt said there are other ways for the park to receive recovery funds that would bypass congressional red tape.

“We do have protocols we have to follow,” Bernhardt said. “But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think this was going to be a priority.”

Other sources of funding might include funds from the Federal Highway Administration, which will conduct assessments at the park to determine possible funding to address roadway subsidence caused by repeated earthquakes during the eruption, Bernhardt said.

One of the most-damaged areas of the park is the Jaggar Museum and its surrounding infrastructure, to the point that whether the museum will reopen at all has been an open question.

“When you stand there at the caldera, my initial reaction honestly was, ‘there needs to be something there,’” Bernhardt said. “It just seems like that would be counter-purposes to not have something right there.”

However, Bernhardt said it is clear that the ground around Jaggar remains unstable and thus any attempt to reopen or replace Jaggar could only be made if the safety of visitors could be guaranteed.

Similarly, Bernhardt said, the Department of the Interior is “months away” from any kind of decision regarding a long-term solution for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, which was closed and evacuated during the eruption.

Regardless of what that decision may be, Bernhardt said he believes HVO will remain on the Big Island and possibly within the park as well.

“I have a hard time believing it won’t be (on the island),” Bernhardt said.

Bernhardt’s statement matches with one made by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who on Thursday confirmed that USGS is committed to keeping HVO on the Big Island.

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“The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is an integral part of the Hawaii Island community, as we saw when HVO scientists worked around the clock with first responders to provide critical information during last year’s volcanic activity,” Hirono said in a statement. “It just makes sense that this critical agency remains anchored on Hawaii Island.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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