East Hawaii News

Bill’s passage puts Hawai‘i County in position for next round of Kīlauea recovery grants

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Lava from fissures that opened at the beginning of the 2018 eruption in Kīlauea’s lower East Rift Zone spews into Leilani Estates in Puna on the Big Island the morning of May 6, 2018. (File photo by Mick Kalber)

The Hawai‘i County Council last week adopted a bill aimed at getting additional funds into the hands of nonprofit organizations to not only help lower Puna rebuild and recover from the impacts of the 2018 Kīlauea lower East Rift Zone eruption and lava flow but also support long-term resilience for the community.

The measure also positions the County for the next round of its Kīlauea Recovery Grant Program.

Bill 56, introduced by Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, establishes standards for how the County awards what’s left of $20 million in flexible funding it received in 2019 from the Hawai‘i State Legislature to assist with recovery efforts, as well as any future relief funds.

The measure is meant to stimulate the Puna economy while expanding the County’s partnerships with nonprofits involved in the recovery, building up their capacity to help. It also will help leverage additional state, federal and philanthropic dollars.


While the money isn’t enough to restore what was lost, Kierkiewicz hopes the next round of grants will help bring the Puna community closer to closure, now five years after the unprecedented volcanic eruption.

“This has been a very rocky and tenuous and frustrating time for so many folks. Not everybody has fully recovered; they are still recovering,” she said Aug. 2 as the Council considered the bill’s first reading. “These grant funds help to make folks and organizations a little bit more whole.”

Ashley Kierkiewicz

Similar to how other County grant programs are administered, funds will be available to nonprofit organizations directly impacted by the eruption and those assisting other entities and individuals in lower Puna communities that experienced direct effects. That includes Orchidland Estates, ʻĀinaloa, Hawaiian Beaches, Hawaiian Shores, Kapoho, Pāhoa, Nānāwale, Leilani Estates and others that were impacted near or in Kīlauea’s lower East Rift Zone.

Of the $20 million the state Legislature gave to the County four years ago, about $4.3 million has been awarded through the County’s Kīlauea Recovery Grant Program and the Puna Strong Grant Program, which is a partnership between the County and the Hawai‘i Community Foundation.


The first round of Kīlauea recovery grants approved in 2020 totaled about $3.5 million.

That included $500,000 in support of an initiative by the Big Island Resource Conservation and Development Council for infrastructure development to help orchid growers displaced by the eruption, $375,000 to Mālama O Puna for road repairs in Leilani Estates and $350,000 to Food Security Hawai‘i to help farms damaged by the eruption.

Several other grants of $25,000 or less, which can be approved by the county finance director, also were awarded as part of the first round at a total of about $83,000.

“We really want to get these funds out to support folks who are still in recovery in our communities across Puna,” said Hawai‘i County Disaster Recovery Officer Douglas Le during the Council’s consideration of the second and final reading of Bill 56 at its Aug. 16 meeting.


With the adoption of Bill 56, Le said his goal is for the application process to be open by the third week of September for the next round of recovery grants. His office plans to host a webinar the first week applications are available for community members to connect and ask questions. Information also will be posted on the Kīlauea recovery website and staff will be available to answer questions.

Following a 30-day application period, Le’s department will review all submissions and make recommendations. Any recommended grants of more than $25,000 will be submitted for Council approval.

“Long story short, our ability to really work in a focused and intentional way for the next couple of months to get this grant program going could lead to awards and contracts towards the end of this calendar year,” Le said last week.

Council Chairwoman Heather Kimball said during last week’s meeting that when disasters strike, people are often better served by community-led, government-supported initiatives and organizations working on the ground and at the frontlines. They’re more nimble and better able to adapt quickly.

Building up the capacity of the nonprofit sector to respond to disasters, as Bill 56 does, is a win-win for everyone involved before, during and after.

“The more we can build up these organizations to respond quickly, the better off we all are,” Kimball said.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at nathan@bigislandnow.com
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