The county is receiving $61 million in federal funding to repair lava-inundated roads in lower Puna, but a timeline for when the next road can be restored has yet to be established.
The money, which was announced Tuesday, will be paid to the Department of Public Works. The funds will be used to restore Pohoiki Road, Highway 137, Leilani Avenue, Hinalo Street, Honualula Street and Lighthouse Road.
The money also might be used to repair other roads that were covered by lava during the 2018 Kilauea eruption, pending discussions between the county, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Puna community.
However, the funds will not go to the county immediately. Rather, FEMA’s announcement is an obligation to reimburse the county up to $61 million for such projects in the future.
“The obligation of these funds is an important step in the recovery process, and the county is grateful for these resources that Hawaii’s congressional delegation supported us in securing,” wrote Disaster Recovery Officer Doug Le in a statement. “Infrastructure remains a priority for members of the community, and we remain committed to ensuring that these funds are used to help Puna.”
The county also is required to match 25% of the FEMA funds, a percentage which is itself covered by no-interest loans approved by the state Legislature.
Of the more than 13 miles of public roadways that were buried in the Kilauea eruption, only Highway 132 has been fully restored, although that project’s funding was fully covered by the Federal Highway Administration.
The county Recovery Task Force’s next priority is the restoration of Pohoiki Road, but a timeline for that project has not yet been finalized.
Among other things, the Department of Public Works needs to secure right-of-entry agreements from property owners along Pohoiki Road before work can proceed, said Public Works spokeswoman Denise Laitinen.
The county has sought 104 such agreements from Pohoiki owners for more than a year, she said; 26, belonging to 17 owners, have not yet been submitted.
However, Laitinen confirmed that FEMA has completed an environmental and historic preservation review, another necessary step before beginning the Pohoiki project.
What roads will be cleared after Pohoiki have not yet been prioritized, Laitinen said.
The county recovery team and the Recovery Task Force have continued to meet with community members to determine which roads should be prioritized.
“Ahead of these decisions being made, DPW has proactively reached out to property owners on Highway 137 between Isaac Hale Beach Park and MacKenzie State Recreation Area,” wrote Laitinen in an email. “To date, of the five property owners along inundated portions of that section of Highway 137, three (Right of Entry) forms remain outstanding.”
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