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FEMA to Provide Tens of Millions in Volcano Recovery Aid

March 9, 2020, 5:52 PM HST
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Pohoiki Road covered in hardened lava flows on Aug. 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sending more than $60 million to Hawai‘i County to help repair public roads devastated by lava during the 2018 Kīlauea eruption.

An agreement with the county, reached under FEMA’s Public Assistance program, identifies about $82 million worth of damage to county-owned roads, excluding Highway 132, according to a press release from the Planning Department. The Federal Highway Administration covered the cost of restoring Highway 132, completed in November 2019.

In total, the four-month-long eruption buried about 13.4 miles of public roads, the county said.

“This grant agreement provides a clearer picture of the resources the county will have when making key decisions about recovery,” said Douglas Le, the County’s Kīlauea disaster recovery officer. “This will help the recovery team take strategic steps to help Puna bounce forward from this eruption. Decisions are made in consultation with the recovery task force, an advisory group consisting of county and community representation.”

Of the total $82 million agreement, the County is responsible for covering 25%, or $20.5 million, and will use no-interest loans approved by the State Legislature for its share of the costs, according to the release. FEMA will fund 75% of the costs, or $61.5 million. Funds can be used to restore infrastructure where it existed and/or be applied to alternative projects.

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Pohoiki Road was identified as the next priority for restoration in order to improve evacuation routes, public safety and community wellbeing in lower Puna, the release continued. Other roads are still under evaluation. The eruption covered about 2.4 miles of Pohoiki Road, including a segment where the lava channel from fissure 8 crossed. About 10 miles of public roads remain covered following the completion of Highway 132.

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Additional steps are required before any work on Pohoiki Road can begin. That includes FEMA obligating the funds, completion of design and completion of a review by FEMA’s Environmental and Historic Preservation team. That process is expected to take several months.

“The County is grateful for the funding provided by our federal and state partners,” said Mayor Harry Kim. “Pohoiki Road has been a priority from the beginning of this recovery. By working with our community partners, we have an opportunity to make Puna a stronger, more resilient place to live.”

Additionally, FEMA and the County Department of Water Supply, a semi-autonomous agency, have reached an agreement on $40.2 million worth of damage to water infrastructure from the eruption. FEMA will provide $30.15 million through Public Assistance, with the county contributing $10.05 million, the county said.

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An agreement between FEMA and the County Department of Parks & Recreation for damage to park facilities remains pending.

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