EA shouldn’t affect Puna buyout program

Puna property owners participating in the county’s housing buyout program should be unaffected by an environmental assessment that will be conducted for the entire program. 

The Voluntary Housing Buyout Program, a federally funded inactive wherein the county buys back properties that were destroyed or damaged during the 2018 Kilauea eruption, completed its first phase at the end of July, with 284 owners of primary residences applying for a buyout.

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Applications for the program’s second phase, wherein owners of destroyed or damaged secondary residences will be eligible to apply, will open Nov. 1.

However, an environmental assessment of the project has yet to be conducted. County recovery officer Doug Le said that, because the program is funded by grant money through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program must be subject to an environmental review.

But Le said the assessment should not impact the people who have already applied for the program, nor those who are preparing to apply for the second or third phases.

The environmental review that is currently underway is a programmatic assessment that looks at the entire buyout program as a whole, Le said, and ensures that it complies with standards set in the National Environmental Policy Act.

As buyouts are finalized, each transaction will be subject to a site-by-site assessment. Le said these assessments will note the specific characteristics of each site: whether the site is located in a floodplain, for example, or if hazardous materials remain on the property.

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While the programmatic assessment is expected to be completed by the end of the year — Le said it is about halfway complete — the site-by-site assessments have not yet begun. However, all sites involved in the program will eventually be subject to assessments of both types.

A public informational meeting about the programmatic assessment will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom. Residents can join the meeting at bit.ly/kilauearecovery.

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