Saturday, Dec. 02, 2023|
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Hawaii County is urging patience as a long-awaited eruption recovery project in lower Puna is delayed yet again.
On Wednesday, the county announced that an environmental assessment required to begin work to restore roads that were cut off by lava during the 2018 Kilauea eruption has still not been completed by a federal agency, despite previous assurances that the document would be completed by January.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency decided in Sept. 2021 to consolidate multiple projects — the restoration of the upper part of Pohoiki Road, a realignment of the lower part, and the restoration of portions of Lighthouse Road and Highway 137 — into one, and began work on a combined environmental assessment for those projects.
At the time, that decision pushed the project’s projected start date to mid-2023. But just months before that date has arrived, FEMA is still working on the environmental assessment.
County Recovery Officer Douglas Le said FEMA is completing its final procedural review of the assessment, and that, since a legal review of the draft hasn’t turned up any problems, the document should be unveiled sometime within the next month.
“It’s still within FEMA’s workflow, so it’s still on FEMA to finish it,” Le said. “But we have been working closely with FEMA to complete the final disclosures for the report.”
The County’s Wednesday announcement included an updated timeline that anticipated that construction is now expected to begin February of 2024. A previous schedule the county released in October estimated that the first phase of the project could begin by the second quarter of this year.
Le acknowledged that residents who have been waiting for the road to reopen for nearly five years will be disappointed by the delay, but added that once the draft is completed, he anticipates no further setbacks.
When it does begin, construction will take place over four phases. The first will restore a portion of Lighthouse Road and Highway 137 connecting to Kapoho Beach Road, while the second, which will begin concurrently with the first, will restore the upper and lower parts of Pohoiki Road and a small part of Leilani Avenue.
Phases three and four will respectively restore sections of Highway 137 from Kapoho Beach Road to Pohoiki Road, and north of Mackenzie State Recreation Area.
Following the assessment’s publication, a 30-day public comment period will be held, likely in May, Le said. Depending on what feedback comes from that, contractors can begin preparing a final engineering design around July, a process which should take about three months.
“Obviously we can’t finalize the engineering design until the (assessment) is finished,” Le said, adding that, following the completion of the design, the county will begin its procurement process.
The full project is funded through a 75-25% split between FEMA and Hawaii County, with the federal agency providing about $61.5 million of the estimated $82 million price tag. However, Le noted that with costs of goods rising everywhere, the final price of the project itself will be dependent upon the final design, although the amount of FEMA funding received will not change.
Meanwhile, Le said the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is working on a draft environmental assessment for a project that would reopen the Pohoiki Boat Ramp by completely removing the sandbar that formed in front of the ramp during the eruption. That project, estimated to cost $40 million, has no scheduled start date.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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