Road to Recovery for Lower Puna
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We, of I Mua Lower Puna, and other supporters of the communities affected by the 2018 lava inundations, believe that the planning effort led by the current administration for the recovery from the 2018 Lower East Rift Zone eruption (2018 LERZ) has the potential to become a second and lasting disaster.
The vision for the future of the area that was directly impacted by the 2018 LERZ has been neither explained nor agreed to by the affected communities. I Mua Lower Puna asked these same questions and stated the same concerns, presenting a petition to County Council on March 10, 2020 with 2800 signatures in support of affected residents and road recovery. On that same day, the County announced receipt of FEMA funds of $61.5M to recover all roadways in Lower Puna inundated with lava in 2018. To date, not an additional inch of roadway has been recovered and now the County appears set on not recovering of miles of inundated roads, leaving lower Puna without a road circulation plan affecting the health, safety and financial well-being of hundreds of households residing in the area.
We believe the County has the capacity to act differently. By way of illustration, the 1960 tsunami devastated Hilo, as well as other areas throughout the State. For Hilo, a vision developed that resulted in a green-belt from the bottom of Waianuenue Avenue to the Wailoa river boat harbor and beyond to what is now a public golf course, setting back redevelopment from the shoreline in this area, and developing a cluster of private and public structures in Kaikoo.
This administration has yet to share with the public consulting planning studies for economic recovery and overall vision for the Lower Puna communities.
There are positive actions that have occurred, such as reopening Highway 132, and we acknowledge the earnest efforts of County personnel. However, promises have been made, not kept, regarding road recovery and basic planning actions have not been taken to assure a viable community supported plan.
In light of the foregoing, we are asking that the HUD-CDBG plan not be finalized and submitted until the end of April 2021, that relevant planning studies related to recovery that have not been made public be immediately released, and that the impacted community and the Recovery Task Force collectively review and decide on how to move forward. Senator Schatz’s office assures us that a time extension is possible. Anything less would create a second disaster for the people and lands impacted by the 2018 LERZ. We want to work with the County to ensure that the long term plan becomes a “Road to Recovery.”
We specifically request the following:
- Identify and implement a recovery plan that reflects a holistic vision for Lower Puna and that reflects input from the affected HOA’s, long standing Puna civic groups, and the community by February 1, 2021.
- Recover HWY 137 from its intersection with HWY 132 to Pohoiki by our third anniversary, May 3, 2021. This connectivity is needed to equitably restore access to marine resources for Puna and commercial fishers, access to agricultural lands, for public safety, and for access by essential services including fire, water rescue, and police.
- Explore opening alternative access through Railroad Avenue (including Cinder Road) to Kahala Street and (/or) Kehau Road for safety and connectivity of Lower Puna (per Resolution No. 732-18) by May 3, 2021.
- Recover Hinalo Street SW of Pohoiki Road and surrounding streets as appropriate by May 3, 2021.
- Direct the Board of Water Supply to use FEMA funds they have been granted to recover water service to areas that previously had County water - Hinalo, Pohoiki, and the area including and around Lower Kapoho.
- Develop and implement a Lighthouse Beach Road Management Plan that respects Hawaiian cultural sites and private properties, complies with Federal Section 106 requirements, and provides appropriate access and facilities for residents and visitors by January 2021. Funding for this plan should come from the HUD monies given this will be a public facility.
- Provide a cost-benefit analysis of housing plan alternatives, and devise a buyout plan that does not result in a checkerboard of public and private properties on lava inundated lands that is equitable for all property owners, and that includes a management plan, embracing the community’s vision.
- Release of the Economic Recovery plan which was completed by ISD many months ago.
- Issue monthly reports from the County posted for the public per the resolution the County Council unanimously approved. The reports should include at a minimum: budget, projects in progress and future projects, timelines, and responsible parties for all action items.
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