Council briefed on administration’s eruption recovery efforts

The county’s Kilauea recovery team has spent approximately $45 million on various projects to restore parts of the island affected by last year’s eruption.

During a Tuesday meeting of the County Council Finance Committee, Kilauea recovery managers Diane Ley and Roy Takemoto presented updates on how the recovery process has continued through the first half of 2019.

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“We’ve been at it for almost a year,” Takemoto said. “And we’ve learned a lot.”

As part of the presentation, Ley presented a list of expenditures made during the recovery process. The most significant of the expenditures was the $31.5 million spent to open temporary access at Pohoiki Road, which was taken from Federal Emergency Management Agency public assistance.

Other expenditures include $12.7 million to provide temporary access to Highway 132, more than $2 million on staffing and consultant contracts, $300,000 on repairs to the Pahoa Community Aquatic Center and Pahoa Park, and more than $90,000 on various events and festivals in order to drive economic development.

Takemoto and Ley went into detail about what recovery efforts will be made this year.

“One of the things we want to report back to you folks is, ‘What have we been working on?’” Takemoto said.

Takemoto said one of the team’s near-term priorities is a case management program that would allow the county to work one-on-one with property owners affected by the disaster to determine their needs and inform them about upcoming opportunities.

Ley added that the team is working closely with the Puna Community Development Action Committee to develop a recovery website that would allow residents to keep track of current recovery progress. Ley said the website likely will go live in the very near future.

The pair was pleased with the team’s progress in restoring infrastructure, with Ley citing restoration of access to the kipuka near Pohoiki Road, as well as ongoing LIDAR studies of other impacted roads in the area. However, Takemoto said any discussion for reopening Highway 137 should wait until work on a temporary repaved access route across the lava-covered Highway 132 — which began last week — is completed.

Takemoto briefly discussed potential new housing pilot programs that he is “very excited” about, including a community land trust and a revolving housing loan for eruption victims. Both pilots would initially be funded by a $10 million grant from the governor’s office, with opportunities for further funding should they be successful.

Ley and Takemoto also announced plans for a more comprehensive disaster recovery framework that will eventually be adopted and adapted for future disasters. Takemoto said the framework will hopefully be ready to present in July.

While members of the Finance Committee briefly questioned Ley and Takemoto about their presentation, there was little public testimony compared to their previous presentation in March.

Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who was previously critical of the administration’s plans, seemed pleased with their progress.

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“There was really no framework for any of us to be operating on,” Kierkiewicz said. “And now all the other counties are looking at us … and we’ll have a great presentation for them next year.”

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

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