Leilani Estates residents divided about road up fissure 8

  • Photo courtesy of ROBERT GOLDEN A view of the completed road up fissure 8 from Luana Street on Thursday.

Leilani Estates residents are divided about a road up the side of fissure 8 that was built by a resident earlier this week.

Sam Estes’ property, which contained a residence and an ornamental plant farm, is one of several located beneath fissure 8, the largest and most productive of the dozens of volcanic fissures that opened in lower Puna during the Kilauea eruption of 2018.

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Earlier this week, against the wishes of the Leilani Community Association, Estes began bulldozing a road up the side of the fissure — to the consternation of several residents, said association president Robert Golden.

It was unclear Thursday whether the new road was permitted by the county.

Golden said the association told Estes in August that it would not remove road barricades at the edges of the lava fields until a thorough assessment had been done about the safety of such an action. The association was in the process of hiring an engineering firm from Honolulu to help make that assessment in January.

However, earlier this week, Golden said Estes removed the barricades from Luana Street himself and began cutting a path up the side of the fissure.

Golden said Estes has said he intends to resume planting on his property on fissure 8. But other Leilani residents have mixed feelings about the road.

“Some of them wanted fissure 8 to be a park, or just a geological feature, without any human development,” Golden said, adding that others have argued that Estes has a right to do what he wants on his own property. “I can see both sides, but we are a community and there are community rights that have to be addressed.

Golden said the association conducted a survey of about 80 or 90 Leilani residents, in which slightly more respondents claimed to be opposed to Estes’ actions, but he added that the sample size is probably too small to draw any meaningful conclusions about the subdivision’s attitudes.

On social media, some commenters decried the road as a desecration of nature while others called it merely unwise, thinking the fissure could begin emitting lava again soon. Others sided with Estes and his right to use his property.

However, Golden added, the association is still awaiting a ruling about the road from the county. Furthermore, Golden worries that Estes’ actions set a precedent for other residents to cut their own potentially dangerous roads across lava on their own properties.

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Estes did not respond Thursday to multiple requests for comment.

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