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LETTER: Call for Federal Intervention to Divert Lava Flow

December 22, 2014, 4:41 PM HST
* Updated December 22, 4:45 PM
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A slow moving disaster has been threatening Pahoa since June 27, 2014.

As many of you know, this disaster is a slow moving lava flow that local government officials have not addressed.  They have kept us informed of the coming lava but have repeatedly stated that, due to traditional Hawaiian culture, they would not attempt to divert the lava and/or try to preserve any private property in its path.  Eventually, these same officials also indicated in public meetings that they were concerned about other liabilities.

It has become apparent to us that we can no longer remain silent as it is clear that, despite ongoing communication from many members of the community disagreeing with their decision, local government would not reverse its standpoint. History has taught us that once a public official has made a decision, it becomes almost impossible to reverse it, despite any new evidence or opinion being brought forward. As such, we call for intervention in the decision making process as it remains clear a different course of action must be opened for consideration.

The First Amendment of the Constitution states that the government cannot show any preference in regard to religious practice and/or encumber the freedom of the press. As such, the current decision that the local government officials have made goes contrary to the United States Constitution and can be challenged as being an illegal act.

During their initial public meetings, the government officials mentioned local Hawaiian culture/religion as the reason diversion would not take place. Additionally, the ability of the press has been restricted by not allowing them to film, photograph, monitor, or interview private property owners regarding the flow. Is the government trying to restrict the press to hide information about the flow? Do we not live in a free country that guarantees the freedom of the press and separation of church and state?

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In addition, a double standard has been established by local officials once they allowed Hawai’i Electric Light to divert lava around their property. Local officials have also mentioned in these public meetings that they will continue to cut roadways through areas where the lava appears to be heading, but indicate that this is not diversion. They also criticized private citizens and indicated that if a private property owner attempted to save their home by diverting lava that some liability for other structures may be assumed. This is a veiled threat and is intended to intimidate any private citizen from trying to protect their own property. These types of decisions by the government have proven to be fascist in history. In all due respect to the culture/religion of the local Hawaiian population and to all the other cultures that now live on this island, we cannot support anything that would be contrary to the Constitution of this great country. Hawaii is the 50th state of the United States, not an independent country.

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Clearly, a different avenue in the decision making process regarding this issue must be taken. To that end, it is necessary for the decision making process to be removed from local officials’ hands.  We call for the Federal Government to appoint independent and qualified personnel to implement a plan of action that has been successful in other parts of the world regarding the diversion of lava from populated areas. Either channel the lava flow to the areas where the least amount of damage would occur to private property and structures, and/or open a channel to allow the lava to flow back to the ocean on Federal property where the source of this event is occurring. The Federal Government has a responsibility to be a “good neighbor” and do everything in its power to protect its neighbors. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a Federal entity and, as such, has a higher level of responsibility regarding this matter.

A liability exists for Government if they allow private property to burn without any attempts to help or assist private citizens in regards to this matter. As taxpayers and citizens of the United States and the State of Hawai’i, all of us deserve the best efforts from our Government, not something that indicates there is “nothing that can be done”. As human beings throughout history, we have always attempted to solve problems, improve life for ourselves, our families, and our communities. The fact that nothing has been done in the past to divert the lava is not a reason that we should not now solve this problem by attempting anything within our mental and technological abilities. To initiate this decision, we must believe in the Constitution of the United States of America and the abilities of mankind.

It is our hope that it is not too late to save Pahoa and surrounding communities from this controllable event. To that end, we have sent a copy of this letter to our Federal Government representatives asking them to intervene, as the current decision of “let it burn” is irresponsible, illegal, and disrespectful to every citizen of this country.

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Respectfully,

Claudia and Tobias Rivera

Residents of Pahoa

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