With Highway 132 open, county officials focus on recovery efforts for other lava-hit areas

  • Highway 132 in Puna reopened on Nov. 27 after portions of the roadway were inundated with lava during the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano. (STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald)

As recovery from the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano continues, the county is proceeding with efforts to address access along other public roadways covered by lava last year.

About 13 miles of public roads were inundated by lava during the eruption last year, including portions of Highway 132, Highway 137, Pohoiki Road, Leilani Avenue, Hinalo Street, Honuaula Street and Lighthouse Road.

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Temporary access to Isaac Hale Beach Park via Highway 137 was established a year ago and access across once-inundated portions of Highway 132 was restored late last month.

While the cost of the Highway 132 restoration was covered fully by the Federal Highways Administration, Recovery spokesman Tom Callis said reimbursement for other impacted roads are being sought through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

According to Callis, FEMA and Hawaii County Department of Public Works are working to come to an agreement on the cost estimate for repairs, which were last calculated at about $100 million for roads, excluding Highway 132.

FEMA would cover 75% of the agreed-upon costs.

Mayor Harry Kim said once the “whole package with FEMA is resolved,” work will go by priorities.

Kim said reopening Highway 132 was the top roadwork priority, and that has been completed.

He initially stated that restoration of Pohoiki Road would be the next priority, “and that so far has not changed.”

That work is estimated to cost around $28 million.

Decisions about additional road restoration will be made through the recovery planning process, which includes consultation with the Recovery Task Force, Callis said.

Any work on roads ahead of FEMA approval would put funding in jeopardy.

Smiley Burrows, who owns property near Kapoho Crater, echoed the Pohoiki Road priority.

“… We are, as a community, really begging that they continue their efforts and try as expeditiously as possible (to) begin opening that road,” she said.

Burrows said, too, that there “needs to be as quickly as possible” efforts to open up 700 feet of Lighthouse Road.

Highway 137 is another priority.

Burrows, a member of I Mua Lower Puna, a coalition of neighborhood groups in the affected area, said there are a lot of people who still need help, “and these projects will all greatly affect this area for the better …”

“Decisions about rebuilding infrastructure and other public investments following the 2018 Kilauea eruption are complex and the county must consider trade-offs at each stage,” Disaster Recovery Officer Douglas Le said. “Through the recovery planning process, we are considering the impacts from this eruption and looking at future risk. County leadership will be working with the Recovery Task Force and community stakeholders on policy decisions, recovery strategies and projects.

“Ultimately, decisions may fall under the kuleana of the mayor, the County Council or both, depending on the issue and authorization needed,” Le continued. “Following this eruption, the goal is to understand risks and chart a path to make the community stronger and more resilient.”

According to Kim, the county and FEMA have been in a “constant working relationship now,” he said, adding that design and survey work have been ongoing.

But Kim said he doesn’t know when the agreement between the two will be reached.

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Kim said, too, that the county government is not identifying any private roads to “be involved in” at this time.

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

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