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Some Road, Water Projects Will Not be Pursued as Part of Puna Restoration Work

September 16, 2021, 5:20 AM HST
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Pohoiki Road covered in hardened lava flows on Aug. 1, 2018. PC: Crystal Richard.

The County of Hawai‘i on Wednesday highlighted additional decisions regarding infrastructure restoration in Puna following the 2018 Kīlauea eruption with the use of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance grants.

“The County based these decisions for use of federal recovery funding on continued engagement with communities impacted by the eruption in order to provide the best benefit for the Puna community in the long-term,” said Douglas Le, County Disaster Recovery Officer. “That includes addressing important issues such as participation in the County’s Voluntary Housing Buyout Program (VHBP), traffic circulation, emergency evacuation, and social and economic needs for the area. FEMA funds not used for restoring particular infrastructure will be used to support alternate projects in Puna.”

Decisions and updates are presented in the following categories:

Water Service

  • The water system to Kapoho subdivisions inundated during the eruption will not be restored. As a next step, the County will work with communities in Puna to deploy available recovery funds received from FEMA for water infrastructure projects in Puna.
  • Use of FEMA funds for restoration of the water line to Isaac Hale Beach Park will be pursued. This depends on feasibility due to geological decisions and FEMA approval.

Roads

  • FEMA funds will not be used to restore Hinalo and Lauone streets, both inundated by the eruption. Any additional decisions regarding these roads will be based on participation in the VHBP.
  • The County is working with FEMA to commence the review of Highway 137 and Lighthouse Road based on final designs. The County anticipates FEMA requiring an Environmental Assessment for Highway 137 due to the need to design the roadway to safe standards over the new terrain following the eruption. Updated timelines are anticipated within a month.
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The county said it plans to restore inundated sections of upper Pohoiki Road, realign lower Pohoiki Road to provide safe two-way access while preserving historic mango trees, restore Leilani Avenue from Pohoiki Road to Kahukai Street, and restore Highway 137 and Lighthouse Road, with the use of FEMA and State recovery funds.

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FEMA anticipates starting Environmental Assessments for the Pohoiki Road projects, including potential restoration of water to Isaac Hale Beach Park, in November, with the review taking about six months to complete.

“While the Environmental Assessment requirements have been a setback in terms of starting construction on these road projects, we are pleased that time will be saved by having these reviews done concurrently,” said County Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst. “This process also will allow time for construction costs to stabilize, which will help the County get more for its investments.”

The Environmental Assessments will ensure proper consultation with lineal descendants, and assessment and documentation of historic, archaeological and environmentally sensitive resources, including any impacts and mitigation actions.

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The eruption damaged about 13 miles of public roads and 14.5 miles of waterlines. As a result of this damage, FEMA approved Public Assistance grants in the amounts of $61.5 million for FEMA-eligible roads and about $30 million for water systems. Funds are provided on a reimbursement basis, with a 25% County match.

Highway 132 was restored in 2019 with $5.75 million from the Federal Highway Administration.

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