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UPDATE: Hawai‘i Officials Present Lava Recovery Update

March 1, 2019, 7:51 AM HST
* Updated March 1, 8:29 AM
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UPDATE: 3.1.19, 8:25 AM

A webpage dedicated to Kīlauea eruption recovery is now live on the Hawai‘i County site at. A stand-alone website is under development and will be launched later this year.

From May to August 2018, Hawai‘i Island was severely impacted by the Kīlauea volcanic eruption, with thousands of residents displaced from their homes and businesses. With economic impacts in the hundreds of millions, the county and its community partners are implementing near-term recovery actions, while planning and securing resources for long-term mitigation and reconstruction.

The recovery webpage currently includes Resident Resources, Agricultural Resources, and Community Resources. Content is added and updated frequently.

An email newsletter is also being distributed as new information pertaining to recovery becomes available. Users may contact [email protected] to sign up for recovery updates or to submit relevant content for consideration.

Hawai‘i State Rep. San Buenaventura during the Lava Disaster Recovery Town Hall, Feb. 23, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard.

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3.1.19, 7:51 AM

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Puna State Rep. Joy San Buenavetura held a lava disaster update Feb. 23, 2019, at the Pāhoa Community Center.

The town hall-style meeting included certificate presentations, a discussion and Q&A with a panel of representatives, updates on current Legislation and a statement from Mainstreet Pāhoa.

The panel included Paul Normann from Neighborhood Place of Puna, Brandee Menino from HOPE Services, Sharon Hirota on behalf of the Office of the Mayor, Tom Travis from Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) and District 4 County Councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz.

Sharon Hirota on behalf of the Office of the Mayor during the Lava Disaster Town Hall, Feb. 23, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard.

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Fresh Onishi was listed as in attendance on behalf of the Governor’s Office but was not present.

Rep. San Buenaventura presented an update on state legislation addressing recovery funding and bills related to addressing issues such as squatters and homes sitting empty due to foreclosure.

House Bill 1180 just passed finance,” explained Rep. San Buenaventura. “That took a long time… over six months of wrangling, lobbying and door knocking… What I was concerned about was the further along this went, the more they would forget about us. We don’t want them to forget. Just because the eruption is over doesn’t mean we are done recovering.”

HB 1180 gives 20 million of subsidy directly to Hawai‘i County and 40 million as a low-interest loan to the county.

Rep. San Buenaventura acknowledged many in the community are concerned about how the money will be spent.

“I know some of you folks are concerned as to what the monies are going to be used for and that’s the reason why the Hawai‘i County Council is going to be a part of the process of giving us monthly reports,” explained Rep. San Buenaventura. “And that way, you folks don’t have to come to the capitol to complain to us as to what the monies go to. You can complain to them.”

HB641, an appropriations bill for a feasibility and cost study relating to the construction of a new boat ramp and pier in Puna, has not progressed.

Hawai‘i State Rep. San Buenaventura during the Lava Disaster Recovery Town Hall, Feb. 23, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard.

In response to the housing crisis in Puna, Rep. San Buenaventura said she is working to pass HB1557 relating to unoccupied residential properties which would impose fines on a homeowner, foreclosing party or prevailing purchaser in foreclosure actions when a vacant residential property subject sits empty during the foreclosure process and establishes conditions under which the property may be rented.

Rep. San Buenaventura thanked the community for their support and efforts to help evacuees during the eruption.

The Bodacious Women of Nanawale were among organizations honored by Rep. San Buenaventura during the Lava Recovery Town Hall, Feb. 23, 2019: (L–R) Deanette Staudinger, Sharon Kaahu, Maraiah Yamamoto. Members not pictured: Gloria Franklin, Ronnette Gonsalves, Tracy Gonsalves and Maddie Green. PC: Crystal Richard.

Various community members and organizations were awarded certificates for their donations and volunteer efforts.

Hawai‘i State Rep. San Buenaventura awarded certificates to Kīlauea eruption volunteers during the Lava Disaster Recovery Town Hall, Feb. 23, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard.

Sharon Hirota updated the community on Hawai‘i County’s recovery efforts on behalf of the Office of the Mayor.

“We continue to work with families who have needs and we understand some of you are very resilient and maybe six months ago moved in with family and friends or found other solutions and said thank you, but I’ve self-resolved,” said Hirota. “But we know sometimes staying with family or friends will wear thin over a period of time and so we will continue our work.”

She said the county has now moved to long-term case management.

The county was awarded a grant from FEMA to fund long-term case managers. This will allow the county to move forward, Hirota explained. The county anticipates that long-term case management will be implemented in early May.

Hirota said that those who continue to have an unmet needs should contact the Neighborhood Place of Puna to get into its database or reactivate their account.

“Because we truly need to know who needs help,” said Hirota.

The Neighborhood Place of Puna has been tasked with making calls to the over 600 families and individuals in their database to check on their status.

“They are trying to get a picture of what is the need in the community right now,” explained Hirota, “so that we can go back and tell the appropriate planner and department what the needs are.”

Paul Normann, representing the Neighborhood Place of Puna, presented data on the unmet needs and cumulative needs met through the Hawai‘i Island Disaster Assistance Response and Recovery Team. As of Feb. 23, 2019, the needs of 450 unduplicated households were met.

Big Island residents impacted by the 2018 Kīlauea eruption in the Lower East Rift Zone currently facing unmet needs are encouraged to contact the Neighborhood Place in Puna.

District 4 Hawai‘i County Councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz, a Pu‘uhonua O Puna volunteer, discussed the importance of and answered questions regarding the more than $200,000 raised to help those directly impacted by the eruption.

County Councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz during the Lava Disaster Town Hall in Pahoa, Feb. 23, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard.

“There have been some questions about the money we were able to raise via our Bank of Hawaii account and GoFund me,” said Councilwoman Kierkiewicz. “I am really proud to say we raised a little over $200,000 and that was parked in a recovery account.”

She said the account only allows for one-way transactions; money goes in and that’s where it stays.

“The only money that has been given to date is the $30,000 that Ikaika Marzo and the captains of the Hub awarded to three families back in December who lost their homes,” explained Kierkiewicz. “Everything else still in the bank account and we are happy to take a picture and show you bank statements to confirm that —but thank you for your trust. We really appreciate that.”

Councilwoman Kierkiewicz said $ 12 million came from the Governor’s Office to support emergency response; $10 million from the Governor’s Office for recovery and relief work; $10 million for recovery and relief will go to temporary roads and access restoration, park renovations and infrastructure, housing and assistance in a community land trust, community-based mental health projects, programs for youth and an agricultural food park.

“The idea is, if we can start putting these projects into work now and into the short-term future, we then can be able to identify how we want to spend down the $20 million that is being given to the county as a subsidy as part of HB1180 that Rep. San Buenaventura was critical in championing for,” said Councilwoman Kierkiewicz.

She said there is about $2.4 million left over from the emergency response funds that will now go to renovations at the Pāhoa District Park and for temporary access roads, such as Highway 132.

Brandee Menino of Hope Services Hawaii said the $125,000 left over from Hurricane Iselle (2014) funding was used to fund the micro-units in Pāhoa. She said they are now asking the County of Hawai‘i to allow the units to be used for housing the homeless.

Menino said the last 19 families impacted by the eruption who are in need of housing are currently living in the micro-units.

Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) Administrator Tom Travis said FEMA is closing the joint field office at the end of February, but that a long-range recovery office will keep a small number of FEMA officials on-island.

Travis said the important change is to federal rental assistance laws.

“I am here to tell you that the law is retroactive to cover the period of the Hawai‘i disaster,” stated Travis.

When met with applause, Travis explained there are two problems—not many people know the laws have changed and that they should ask about it. He said though the law has changed, there currently are no written rules or regulations.

Tom Travis, administrator of the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency during the Lava Disaster Recovery Town Hall, Feb. 23, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard.

“Now there are no rules, so I can’t tell you what to do or what,” Travis said. “FEMA says they don’t want to discuss the issue until they have the rules in place and then those rules will be retroactive. But I think probably, some of you are making decisions not to ask for rental assistance based on the fact that you’d just be subtracting it from something else. That may not be the case and that is what I want you to understand. I wish I could tell you what the rules and regulations will be, but they’re not written yet, but the law says you should be able to both collect rental assistance and the maximum for repairs.”

Travis is currently working with FEMA to change its regulations to match this disaster. Prior to this eruption, FEMA was designed to act in the days or weeks following events such as flooding. He explained that as the county opens new areas impacted by the eruption, new and often unexpected expenses will arise in order to reopen the location.

“One of my jobs is to work with FEMA to try to be sure they change the rules for the disaster to match this disaster—the lava,” explained Travis.

Kerry Kealoha Kelley and Amadeo Markoff provided an update on behalf of Mainstreet Pāhoa Association.

Markoff said Mainstreet Pāhoa is primarily concerned about the economic vitality of Pāhoa and the surrounding communities.

“I need the powers that be to understand the seriousness of our predicament we are in here in Puna and Pāhoa specifically,” explained Markoff. “The economic impact during the eruption was catastrophic with some Pāhoa businesses suffering as much as 80% loss of revenues… It is clear the long-term economic impacts are staggering.”

Markoff went on to explain to uncertain future most businesses in Lower Puna are facing.

Amadeo Markoff representing Mainstreet Pahoa Association during the Lava Disaster Recovery Town Hall, Feb. 23, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard.

“We are truly afraid of what is to come and many more businesses are likely to fold if there is no significant help in Puna,” explained Markoff. “Businesses in our area are faced a lot of uncertainty. We are uncertain how the state is planning on helping us. We are uncertain about whether we are going to have our infrastructure rebuilt and how fast this can be done. We are uncertain about where the housing will be built and whether the county will allow it. We are uncertain about what type of access farmers, residents and visitors will be allowed. We are uncertain about when and where our about ramp will be reconstructed or restored. One thing is certain, we need assistance… the businesses in Puna can no longer wait.”

May 6, 2018, 6 a.m., Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone: Two homes are consumed by the massive flow and a third is threatened as the lava advances downslope. PC: Paradise Helicopters/ExtremeExposure/Bruce Omori

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