2018 Kilauea eruption: Interim recovery strategy moves ahead

Hawaii County is taking another step toward recovery from the 2018 Kilauea volcano eruption.

The County Council Finance Committee on Tuesday voted to recommend for full council approval an interim recovery strategy crafted using input from public, private, nonprofit and community sectors.

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The interim recovery strategy aims to provide focus around ongoing efforts to coordinate recovery actions related to the impacts of the months-long eruption that destroyed more than 700 homes and structures in lower Puna.

According to the document, the strategy is organized by “recovery support functions,” which are defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Disaster Recovery Framework, to improve access to resources and better align and coordinate county, state and federal agencies, non-governmental parties and community stakeholders.

Immediate priorities listed in the plan include, among others, expediting temporary access to enable residents of the kipuka, or areas isolated by lava flows, to get home or back to work on their properties; identifying ways to monitor the budget and defining budget tracking procedures to ensure transparency and accountability; and developing a plan for ongoing community engagement.

Meanwhile, some of the objectives identified in the plan include accelerating the development of a boat ramp in Puna; pursuing workforce development opportunities; assisting Kua O Ka La New Century Public Charter School, which lost its campus to the lava flows, with interim needs and permanent relocation; exploring housing opportunities and creating innovative housing options; and road recovery, which prioritizes getting lava-locked residents back to their properties and accelerate reviews of lava-inundated roads, among others.

“I think what you have before you in the form of this interim recovery strategy is my heart for Puna,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz told the committee. “If I could wrap my arms around you and give you a lei of aloha, this is it. It is the time that I spent in the community to help with disaster response and it’s the 10 months that I’ve been in office being the people’s champion, meeting with (the) community nearly every week in Pahoa and giving them a chance to elevate their heart and soul and their voice in this document. So this document is a reflection of community sentiments. And what it all boils down to is accountability and transparency.”

Diane Ley, director of the county Department of Research and Development and Kilauea recovery manager, said the recovery team was working on an interim strategy early in the year and shared it with Kierkiewicz and Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy of Hilo in about April.

“And the two council members, in consultation, have added substantially to the strategy, really focusing on defining that recovery process, inclusion of the community and administrative transparency, and that’s all good,” Ley said.

With the interim plan, “we can hit the reset button,” rebuild trust and establish a clear, objective decision making process, “where the council knows its role” and the community knows where it fits in, Kierkiewicz said.

“This was an unprecedented event,” Lee Loy told the committee. “And so, this has become an unprecedented document, which has a lot of innovative thoughts and a way to re-imagine the area with the various sources of funding that we are seeking. … I think this document, for the rest of my colleagues, really develops the framework to be agents of change, help give the community exactly what they need, and empower them, as Ms. Kierkiewicz said, with the tools to re-imagine their community, (and to) truly bounce back and truly recover.”

She urged council members to “take a good hard look at the measurables, the deliverables, the accountability, the transparency, all of these key words the community has been asking for for a very long time, and urge that they support this interim recovery plan as we move through this and then the long-range plan going forward.”

A comprehensive strategic plan is still a work in progress and anticipated to be completed by the end of the year. It will supersede the interim plan.

“The county is developing a formal or comprehensive recovery strategic plan, and that’s really essential for us in order to know what our game plan is as a community and as a county government, and allows us to be held accountable and also be able to justify when we go out and seek additional resources, particularly at the federal level,” Ley said after the committee meeting.

According to Ley, the interim and overall strategic plans are “being worked together simultaneously.”

“The likelihood that we’re going to be able to implement everything in here is probably not really high, because in the enthusiasm and all the needs, there’s a lot in it,” Ley said. “But what it will do, this will actually help inform the long-term comprehensive strategic plan, it will also give us work to do now … It will keep the recovery process moving forward.

“But note that the recovery process is going to continue to evolve and it will move forward with new information and will need to make changes as new information comes in, both from the community (and) from government, things we might not be able to do because of other laws precluding us, and also (restrictions) from our funding sources.”

Recovery, is a process, Ley said

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“It’s a major process for us as both the administration and the council to find our way, it’s a major process for our communities to find their way,” she told the committee “And that requires patience with one another and trust, because in the bottom line, this is a small community and we’re all in this together, and we all need to come out of it together. It’s going to take us many years. This is not a short-term initiative.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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