PGV to Provide Limited Access for Puna ResidentsMarch 23, 2019, 12:23 PM HST (Updated March 23, 2019, 1:50 PM)
Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) held a community meeting at the Pāhoa High School cafeteria on March 22, 2019, to provide an update on reopening the energy plant and plans to provide a road to residents still needing access to return home following the 2018 Kīlauea eruption in the Puna District.
PGV, along with other homes and farms in the area, were surrounded by lava during the eruption, which made access impossible. While most of the plant was spared, flows did reach the property, covering wells and compromising transmission lines.
PGV, in partnership with the Kapoho Land and Development Company, is working on the plan to provide access for residents with homes and farms within the kipuka adjacent to the plant.
Michael Gronik is among residents with properties in the kipuka (an isolated area of land that is locked in by lava flows).
“Oh, happy day,” laughed Gronik, whose property is in the kipuka between flows in Kapoho and Pohoiki.
He said they are located “right on the edge, with lava all around us.”
Gronik said his house and meditation temple burned to the ground, but that some housing, a big barn and community center were spared.
He said he has been hiking out to his property but will be happy to have road access.
Gronik said they are uncertain if they will rebuild.
“I think we are going to restore what is still standing… get the farm going again a little bit,” explained Gronik.
Gronik is serving as a point of contact for residents looking to return to property within the kipuka and PGV.
PGV dispersed Temporary Revocable License Agreements for Ingress and Egress among residents needing access to their properties.
The liability waiver establishes terms for using the access road, which includes limiting to property owners and immediate family for coming and going only certain days and times. The waiver also outlines terms for termination, as well as waiving all liability to property owners in case of injury, death or damage to vehicles.
“We have completed our access road plan,” said Jordan Hara, PGV plant manager. “We also have completed an access road to the subdivision for the landlocked neighbors there.”
He said PGV is continuing to monitor and evaluate equipment on site due to SO2 conditions and acid rain experienced during the eruption.
There have been many repairs and replacements at the plant due to effects of the eruption.
Hara said PGV completed a fresh water well, which is the next step in restoring the plant. Currently, the well is in the testing phase.
PGV is in process of excavating the substation, which requires digging the lava out in order to replace it.
“We are also looking at bringing in future power to the plant,” explained Hara, “so we can provide power to ourselves. We are working with HELCO on that.”
PGV has been working closely with Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) on plans for restoring the plant.
Kevin Waltjen, director of the Hawaii Island Hawaii Electric Light Company, said the switching station requires clearing and rebuilding after being inundated by lava during the eruption.
Prior to the eruption, PGV provided 31% of the island’s energy.
“Disaster can bring out the best in people,” said Puna landowner Lono Lyman, “I certainly saw this in respect to neighbors—neighbors helping our farmers.”
Lyman said his family had 1,265 acres covered by lava during the eruption but he still has land suitable for agriculture.
“Others lost everything,” said Lyman. “Our farmers want to go back, and we want to get our neighbors back.”
Lyman gave up an additional 6 acres to help create the access road for the residents in the kipuka.
“It’s time to move forward. It’s time to work together,” stated Lyman. “It’s time to set aside differences because we’ve gone through a horrendous, transformative eruption and now we have to move forward with reopening Highway 132 to what is a small breadbasket.”
Hara told residents the next step for access to the kipuka will be collecting and processing the liability waivers, followed by creating a security checkpoint and another meeting to finalize terms of the agreement and set a date for access to begin.
He said that their priority is safety.
Hara said that when it rains heavily, there is a lot of steam which may cause PGV to close the access route.
During the question-and-answer session, Hara said road access will be limited, at least in the beginning.
Hara pointed out that they understand residents will want to be able to have contractors have access to their homes, but for now, access will be limited to immediate family only.
The long-term goal is to have 24-7 access.
Residents need to provide a valid driver’s license and proof of car insurance with their completed waiver.
Pick up or turn in a completed access waiver to Lisa Roach at Savio Reality at 15-2911 Pāhoa Village Road in Pāhoa.
PGV has not set a date for when residents will be allowed to begin using the access road.
Hawai‘i County Director of Research and Development Diane Ley provided an update on recovery.
“We know that we are not meeting all needs, but we are diligently working to support the community in recovery,” said Ley.
“Recovery really is more than just about roads,” said Ley. “It’s a long-term, five- to 10-year process. Our community has changed. The landscape has changed and it’s going to be different.
Ley said the damage caused by this eruption is estimated at $800 million. Hawai‘i County has never had to recover from anything of this magnitude in the past.
Ley said the county is in the currently working on a risk assessment, integrating data, and working on rolling out family case managers and identifying additional available funding resources.
Individual assistance is still available for existing cases. Those with unmet needs are encouraged to reactivate their case or appeal as needed.
Ley said FEMA has provided the county with a grant to provide local case management.
Ley asked residents to ask themselves the tough questions: “‘Do I want to go back?’ You may say yes. You may say no. ‘Should my family reinvest here? Or will buyouts be an option for those that don’t want to? Should taxpayer dollars go back into the community? Should parts of the community not be restored? Or should it be a partial restoration?’”
Ley said the county is in process of planning temporary and permanent restoration of Highway 132. The temporary access road is scheduled to be completed in October 2019.
Ley told residents living off Pohoiki Road that access plans are in progress and next on the county’s list priorities.
For more on Hawai‘i County’s recovery response, go online.