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Hawai‘i County Council Passes Eruption Recovery Resolutions

September 8, 2019, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated September 10, 11:21 AM
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Lava crosses Pohoiki Road, May 28, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

The Hawai‘i County Council passed three resolutions this week relating to recovery from the 2018 Kīlauea eruption during the Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 3 and the council meeting on Sept. 4, 2019.

Res. 270-19 grants $28,000 from Hawai‘i County to Malama O Puna for road recovery. The grant funds will be used to establish a temporary road for residents and farmers from Malama Ki to access lava-locked farms and homes when it was lost in May 2018.

Res. 271-19 adopts the interim recovery strategy regarding the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, establishing a plan for interim recovery efforts, including management of funding sources, spending, and goals and objectives for restoring economy, housing and infrastructure.

Res. 263-19 authorizes Mayor Harry Kim to enter into four-year employment contracts with an option for additional extensions for seven positions to support the 2018 Kīlauea eruption recovery efforts.

“We updated this budget to include money to support things we are hearing are so needed in the community,” said District 4 Councilmember Ashley Kierkieicz.

Hawai‘i County Councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz. Courtesy photo

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She said the community needs “money to support Ku O Ka la re-establish itself; money for the la waia to support boat ramp; money with the Puna Strong grants; a revolving loan fund to get people back home; business case management and… a wastewater treatment facility design and a plan for work for Pāhoa.”

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“I do believe that Ashley’s Res. 271-19 is an important moment in time, in which people’s perceptions, particularly people’s perceptions in Puna, of their local government can change,” said Leilani Estates resident Robert Golden. “There is a lot of cynicism, a lot disbelief and yet there is a lot of deep fundamental caring that we want to work with you in rebuilding.”

Golden said he feels the key to restoring and moving Puna forward lies in the economic recovery section of the resolution.

“I want to underline a key sentence I see here, ‘create a community culture that fosters flexibility so that all can prosper in the face of challenges, emergencies, and natural disasters,’ said Golden. “As we all see here, it’s the people who are going to do that.”

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Part of Res. 271 includes support for Ku O Ka La Charter School.

“Clearly Ku O Ka La has short- and long-term needs, said Susie Osborne of Ku O Ka La. “I really want to thank the County for your thoughtful process engaging community in the steps of recovery. I know its been frustrating for some residents, but I think its been really important to take that time to understand the community needs.”

Lava closes in on a Kua O Kala Charter School. PC: HFD

Osborne said she is grateful to be included and noticed.

“It’s the difference of survival or not for our school,” said Osbourne, “We see that in fact a year later its actually not gotten a lot better, but worse, especially in the emotional arena.

Osborne said Ku O Ka La just experienced its first student suicide last week—a graduate from last year… “a strong Hawaiian woman,” said Osborne.

“It’s really not the lava as a result, but a combination of everything, so that’s just been deeply emotionally challenging to see the impacts that continue in our community,” said Osborne. “So, it is time for action. I am grateful to the county for stepping up to the plate and for Ashley’s leadership.”

She said it is time for the Puna community to stop just surviving and get into thriving.

“I hold a great vision for not only for our school but our community,” said Osborne.

The council voted in favor of Res. 271.

“We are pleased with the positive passing of Res. 271-19,” said Osborne. “We are in great need of and truly grateful for this support and hope the county will be able to put the processes in place in order to begin to release the funding for all of the disaster recovery support needs including Kua O Ka La.”

During the first two weeks of Kīlauea Volcano’s 2018 lower East Rift Zone eruption, fissures were characterized by low eruption rates and small flows. This was because the erupted lava originated from pockets of cooler, less fluid magma stored in the rift zone. Later fissures erupted hotter, more fluid magma, resulting in higher eruption rates and large, fast-moving lava flows, like that erupted from the fissure 8 cone (lower right), shown here on July 29, 2018. PC: USGS photo by M. Patrick.

In addition to Res. 271-19, the council passed Res. 263-19, which establishes seven new county positions that will work directly on recovery.

“These positions are to support recovery efforts and to carryout the work that our body reviewed in the Interim Recovery Strategy,” said Kierkiewicz.

The new positions are: Recovery Officer; Recovery and Redevelopment Manager; Recovery and Redevelopment Assistant; Disaster Recovery Communications Specialist; Disaster Recovery Program Coordinator; Manager for Disaster Recovery Community Engagement and Collaboration; SQL database Specialist for Recovery.

The employment contracts will be executed for four years and will be funded with disaster recovery resources available to the county.

“We know these positions are needed and we need to expedite work so that we can proceed on recovery projects and incentives,” said Diane Ley, director of Research and Development and the Kīlauea recovery manager. “We do have a lot of work to do. The impacts certainly hit Lower Puna and Upper Puna hard, but the impacts are islandwide.

The county said three of the seven positions are currently filled through one-year contracts.

In addition, Res. 263-19, the council also passed Res. 270-19.

Councilmember Kierkiewicz thanked Nicolette Douvris for her work in getting this resolution created. Douvris and her ‘ohana lost access to their farm over a year ago and are still waiting to gain entry to their farm.

“Its been a very long year for recovery, so I am very happy to support Res. 270-19 so that we can speed up the recovery process to get to where we need to be,” said Douvris. “I’d just like to state how difficult it has been as a small farmer trying to work through this whole process.”

Pohoiki Road covered in hardened lava flows on Aug. 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

Malama O Puna will be awarded a $28,000 grant to establish a temporary road for residents and farmers from Malama Ki to access homes and farms lava locked by the 2018 Kīlauea eruption.

During public testimony, Puna resident and Vacationland Board Member Susan Kim testified in support of the resolution.

“I want to ask the council and administration, what does success look like in three months? Six months? A year from now?” asked Kim in her public testimony on Sept. 3. “While this resolution is comprehensive and includes greatly needed projects, I have difficulty when reading the goals, envisioning what success looks like for our community in Lower Puna.”

Kim gave specific examples she hoped would be given as goals for recovery including getting all kipuka residents access before the two-year anniversary of when the eruption began or dredging Pohoiki by the end of the calendar year so fishermen will have a boat ramp in Puna.

“I believe success is the number of people you are going to provide road access home in the next six months,” said Kim. “Success is the day fisherman can use the boat ramp to get back to their livelihoods. And success is when impacted farmers start selling their produce and local businessmen return to pre-eruption profitability.”

Lava flows block Highway 132 and Pohoiki Road June 2, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

Andy Andrews, president of Leilani Estates Community Association, spoke in resounding support of resolution. Andrews represents over 2,000 community members.

Golden expressed his concerns about the resolution being implemented as it was presented during public testimony on Sept. 3.

“It’s asking the county to behave in a way they have never yet once behaved since the day of the disaster,” stated Golden.

He said it would be a dream come true for there to be a county team dedicated to recovery and to meeting the needs of those impacted by the eruption.

Construction to restore Highway 132 underway, June 10, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

“Every step of it is going to require such a radical departure from the current behavior of the county that I can’t help but receive this document with a lot skepticism,” said Golden. “I am willing to put the skepticism aside and have nothing but optimism if you the council actually take the action steps that require of the county to take the action steps described in the document and move forward as presented today.”

Following Golden was Puna resident John Olsen, also testifying on Res. 271.

“I think recovery is pretty simple—its roads and water,” stated John Olsen. “That is all the county is obligated… The county is responsible for county roads and the county water system. It is unclear to me going forward why we are piling on a preparation for the next event while the county is having difficulty sifting through just the two things they are required to do.”

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