Work to restore lava-covered portion of Highway 132 begins Monday

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Signs inform visitors that the area is restricted where the lava crosses Highway 132 in Pahoa.

Construction is set to start on restoring lava-covered portions of Highway 132, an approximately 3.2-mile stretch.

“The contract has been signed, and we’re going to start on Monday,” Mayor Harry Kim confirmed Thursday.

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The project was described as an “initial ‘temporary’ access restoration phase” in a May 30 email by county Public Works Director David Yamamoto.

“Temporary does not mean anything of roughness or anything like that. This will be a very good highway,” Kim said.

Asked if the road will be similar to what was done with Highway 137 to allow access to Isaac Hale Beach Park in Pohoiki, Kim replied, “Much better than that” — because it will be paved.

Kim said the dateline for completion of the project is “the first week of October, to qualify for federal funds, 100 percent reimbursement.”

“Because of that, I guarantee that’s when we’re going to finish,” he said.

Two contractors — Isemoto Contracting Co. and Ludwig Construction Inc. — were selected in what Kim described as a “running bid” process, where equipment, manpower and time will be factored into the price tag, which Yamamoto estimated at $11.9 million.

The National Weather Service forecast a wetter-than-usual dry season, but Kim is optimistic the project will be completed on time, regardless.

“Because of the paving, hopefully it won’t interfere with it that much,” the mayor said. “It’s on the southeast side of the island, because it’s south of (Cape Kumukahi) — and if you know that side of the island, the weather is different than the northeast side. It’s much, much drier. And we’re hoping it’s not going to be a factor.”

Kim said roughly 50 homes remain in what has been called the “kipuka” area. Those homes haven’t been destroyed but were isolated because of the lava flows, some more than 40-feet in height, covering the highway.

Puna Geothermal Venture allowed about 200 residents to use a road across its property. The road is rough and requires four-wheel drive.

“Right now, a lot of them are using PGV’s road,” Kim said. “Also, 132 will connect with the farmers down at Waa Waa. They have to go through Hawaiian Beaches now. This will allow them to go directly through their farms.”

Deb Waterman, a Kapoho resident whose home is standing but isolated by the lava, said the start of road construction is “wonderful, wonderful news.”

“It’s about time,” she said. “We’re very happy.”

“We’ve been anxious to move back, but because my mother-in-law is 90, there’s no emergency services that can go through there unless there’s a real road. And no way to get my Mustang in and out over a road that rocky,” Waterman elaborated, referring to the access road provided by PGV.

Waterman’s family was able to find housing elsewhere in Puna, but is anxious to move back.

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“It’s a great feeling getting ready to come back home,” she said.

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

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