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Puna Coalition Holds Meeting Full of Hope

May 11, 2019, 1:53 PM HST (Updated May 14, 2019, 5:35 PM)
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Homeowner associations and property owner representatives from Leilani Estates, Kapoho Vacationland, Kapoho Beach Lots, Kapoho Land & Development, 132 Kipuka, Lani Puna Gardens, Lighthouse Kipuka, Pohoiki Kipuka, Malama Ki, Green Mountain/Kapoho Crater during the community meeting on May 10, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

The community coalition Imua Lower Puna held E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting, May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria to discuss the future of Puna following the unprecedented 2018 Kilauea eruption.

Nancy Seifers accepts a donation on behalf of the Highway 132 kipuka during the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pahoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Imua Lower has created a coalition of all the areas impacted by the 2018 eruption, to help the county with understanding the needs of the community.

Rabbi Rachel Short of Ahava Aina and its vice president, Sen. Russell Ruderman, presented Highway 132 kipuka residents with $3,000 to help pay for maintenance of the access road through Puna Geothermal Venture and Lono Lyman’s property. While PGV is providing access, residents are required to maintain the gravel access road.

Hawai‘i officials attend the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

“I only represent a small group of lava affected folks,” Nancy Seifers of the Highway 132 kipuka and IMUA. “We have access on a very rough and tumble road, but most of it we maintain. We want Highway 132 right.”

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Seifers said the group of farmers and residents inside the Highway 132 kipuka have spent $7,000 since April on gravel and cinder to maintain the temporary access road.

Sen. Russell Ruderman at the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal RicharD

“We need all the roads open,” added Seifers, “We need access to all our roads for our families and farmers.”

Sen. Ruderman provided a brief legislative update as a Pahoa business owner, Puna homeowner, musician and Puna senator.

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“I think its so noble how they’ve gathered together everyone who is lava locked or lava-isolated to speak with one voice,” said Sen. Ruderman. “I think that’s really powerful.”

Sen. Ruderman said the boat ramp at Pohoiki has been deemed not-recoverable and that they are looking elsewhere in Puna for a new boat ramp.

Mayor Harry Kim during the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Hawai‘i Island Mayor Harry Kim reiterated the county’s plans for road restoration.

He said this is the first time since 1983 that the island has known clean air and has experienced a break from volcanic activity at Kīlauea.

He acknowledged that many thought the administration was “dragging our tails,” but he assured residents he and his administration were doing their best and working together on the state, federal and county levels to push everything through as fast as possible.

“Regards to the county government,” Mayor Kim continued, “I know you thought we might even not be doing our job. I ask that you know that we tried, believe it or not. But the speed of which the state and county government worked through the emergency—I will swear it is unprecedented.”

The mayor reiterated the timeline for Highway 132, which is expected to be completed before Oct. 5, 2019—the federal highways funding deadline.

Highway 132, May 10, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

He said if the road is not completed by the deadline, the county would no longer qualify for reimbursement.

“I guarantee we will finish it,” proclaimed Mayor Kim.

He said in order to double the rate at which the road can be completed, they plan to have bulldozers start at both ends of Highway 132.

The field survey and the right-of-entry process are completed.

Many were surprised to hear him go on to say that following Highway 132, the county will work on the 0.8-mile section needed to get down to Vacationland, Kapoho, Beach Lots, Kapoho Kai and Lakeland.

In addition, Mayor Kim shared that Southwest Airlines will soon be offering flights out of Hilo to Honolulu and then from Hilo to the West Coast. He also said that he has a project in the works to stagger the break wall in Hilo Bay, to right what the mayor said were wrongs made long ago.

Steve Hirakani, principal and director of the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS) during the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

For more information of the County of Hawai‘i’s plans for recovery following the 2018 eruption go, online.

While organizers of the event had hoped the mayor would stay to hear the remainder of the meeting, he had previous commitments at a graduation ceremony.

Steve Hirakani, principal and director of the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS), discussed impacts on education and particularly to HAAS and children in the Puna community following the eruption.

He discussed the impacts of families being displaced, moving away and loss of land.

“Some of the not-so-obvious things that I really want to emphasize today is there’s a balance to education,” explained Hirakani. “On one side is education, but the balance is recreation. As you know, this disaster has made us lose incredible recreational resources.”

Hirakani encouraged officials to expand hours at the Pāhoa pool and the recreational areas left in Puna.

“There is no excuse to limit the hours on our swimming pools or our recreational areas,” stated Hirakani. “We need to extended services… Otherwise, guess what happens? They start making different choices and some of those choices are really bad. We don’t want that.”

He encouraged the community to get involved. He suggested starting sports teams and finding ways to help support and uplift the community and its youth.

Talmadge Magno, General Kenneth Hara, Tom Travis and Sen. Russell Ruderman during the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

Following Hirakani was fellow Puna educator Susie Osborne, Po‘okula and Kua O Ka La Public Charter School co-founder.

Deb Smith, president of Vacationland Hawaii Community Association, during the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

“I want to remind all of us, that no matter what is occurring or what phase of healing, to do it with aloha—otherwise, we have nothing,” stated Osborne. “It’s a long road to recovery. There are many aspects: the roads are super-important, the economy, the agriculture, our infrastructure and our education. I want to encourage all of us to remember to prioritize and invest in our future generation. Our children.”

To learn more about Kua O Ka La, go online.

General Hara during the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

County Council Rep. Aaron Chung during the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

“It takes great leadership to listen to the community,” said Puna resident and Imua Lower Puna member Susan Kim. “I think it’s really important that we can have one voice. That we can all share with the mayor our needs and ask him to listen, so I was a little disappointed he left after his speech to be quite honest.”

Smiley Burrows, Puna landowner, resident and Imua Lower Puna member, added, “I think he had some incredible things to say to us for the first time. I think he’s doing an incredible job.”

At the end of the meeting, residents were asked to complete a quick survey answering the following questions:

  • What is your vision for lower Puna?
  • What is you immediate need from the county?
  • What matters most?
  • How can we, collectively, as a community, support you to achieve your vision?
  • What resources are you lacking to create your vision?

The community’s responses will be submitted to County Councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz and Mayor Kim.

Civil Defense Director Talmadage Magno talking to Puna residents after the E Hana Ana No: Community Meeting on May 10, 2019, at the Pāhoa High School Cafeteria. PC: Crystal Richard

“I was here just to listen,” explained County Councilmember Aaron Chung. “They said it was going to be an amazing night. I heard a lot of anecdotes and got a lot information. A lot of this information was new, and I think this is valuable for us as decision makers who are trying to work as hard as we can with the admiration… We are doing the best we can. This type of input is essential.”

Crystal Richard
Crystal Richard moved to East Hawai’i in 2005 to attend UH Hilo. While earning her bachelor’s degree in English and a certificate to teach English as a second language, Crystal served as the editor-in-chief of “Hohonu,” UH Hilo’s academic journal, and as assistant editor-in-chief at “KeKalahea,” UH Hilo’s student newspaper. From a young age, Crystal fell in love with the written word and has always dreamed of a career in journalism. She has worked as a Big Island Now freelance reporter since September 2016. She is a wellness and health advocate who enjoys swimming, gardening, reading and spending time with her animals and loved ones.
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