Hawaii County Council members appeared pleased with the current state of the Kilauea eruption recovery efforts after an update provided Tuesday to the Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development.
Roy Takemoto, executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, presented a broad update regarding how the recovery team is progressing in its work to implement the goals of the Interim Recovery Strategy adopted last month.
Much of Takemoto’s report was positive.
Road striping and installation of signage on the upper portion of Highway 132, which was buried by lava during the 2018 eruption, is expected to begin next month, with that section of the road anticipated to be open by Thanksgiving. The lower section of the road is still too hot to drive on, but paving is complete and about 30% of the shoulder work is done.
Takemoto said the recovery team still expects full reimbursement for the approximately $6.5 million Highway 132 project from the Federal Highway Administration, although the deadline for the administration to pay that was extended to Jan. 5, 2020.
Meanwhile, the Hawaii Island Disaster Assistance Response and Recovery Team is still working on developing a needs assessment and is tracking available resources and streamlining partnerships between agencies in order to create a permanent agency to respond to future crises.
“We’re hoping to institutionalize HI-DARRT so we can respond to the next disaster,” Takemoto said.
Other parts of the report were less definitive because a significant source of recovery funding has yet to be delivered.
The county was awarded $66.9 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a portion of which will be used as a Community Development Block Grant to support the recovery process.
However, Takemoto said, the actual delivery of the grant can only happen after a notice is filed in the Federal Register, which has not happened yet and has no concrete date. Once that happens, the grant can be secured within approximately 120 days.
In the meantime, the recovery team is working on implementing financial controls that will be required by the federal government to manage the funds, including various audits, a new budgetary system and other systems that will prevent recipients from mistakenly receiving duplicate awards.
By implementing these controls, Takemoto said the team hopes to avoid “clawback,” or the return of mistakenly awarded recovery money. Certain grants to eruption victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were subject to clawback earlier this year, which led to outrage among victims and a situation Takemoto said he does not want to repeat.
Takemoto said the team’s outreach efforts have been well-received. Two SpeakOut events focusing on youth input in July and October garnered significant engagement that he said will influence future recovery programs, while the recently created recovery website might add new functionality to take polls and allow users to communicate with the team.
Council members in attendance approved of Takemoto’s report. Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz was pleased by the breadth of the report, but urged the team to include more community representation in the various task forces, particularly representation from young and disabled people.
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Panel postpones waste management agenda items
Two agenda items during a meeting Tuesday of the Hawaii County Council Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management relating to waste management on the Big Island were postponed until November.
The committee was scheduled to hear an update from the Department of Environmental Management in advance of significant changes to the county’s recycling program that take effect today.
Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder requested the presentation in the hopes of providing solutions to the county’s limited waste capacity and its use of now-unrecyclable plastics.
Also on the agenda was a resolution urging the departments of Environmental Management and Research and Development to develop a plan to reduce waste while seeking alternative energy generation. That resolution was introduced by Kohala Councilman Tim Richards.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder and Richards were absent from Tuesday’s meeting, and their items were postponed until the panel’s next meeting, which is slated for Nov. 5.
Both items did inspire some public comment, however.
Most of those who testified about the two items were highly in favor of stronger county support toward waste reduction, particularly initiatives that disincentivize plastic use at the point of sale, such as single-use plastic bans.
Many testifiers also were suspicious of Richards’ resolution, warning that similar language was used to push for the construction of a waste-to-energy incinerator that was roundly opposed by the public in 2014.