Blindsided by big ask: Lawmakers want to know more about $550M volcano relief proposal

  • Senator Russell Ruderman.
  • SAN BUENAVENTURA

HILO — Mayor Harry Kim, the County Council and two members of the island’s state legislative delegation came closer to an understanding Wednesday about how to ask for money to rebuild island infrastructure in the wake of the volcanic eruption and destructive lava flow.

The county still hasn’t finalized a plan or assigned a specific dollar amount for the approximately $550 million it says it needs to rebuild roads, parks and housing, stimulate tourism and find new land for farmers. Regaining economic stability is the main goal, Kim said.

ADVERTISING


Timing is critical if the county hopes to get the Legislature to agree to a special session in the next couple of months. The administration plans to forward its conceptual plan to the council Friday and to the Legislature shortly after that.

State legislative leaders, however, are questioning why local lawmakers, such as Rep. Joy San Buenaventura and Sen. Russell Ruderman, Democrats who represent the hardest-hit areas in Puna, haven’t been kept in the loop.

The two lawmakers relayed their concerns to the County Council.

“We all understand the county administration is working as hard as they can,” Ruderman said. “We’ve been locked out of the process, but we have to move forward with all of us moving on one page. … If all of us aren’t on the one page, it’s going to fail.”

Ruderman said the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee asked him why the requests are coming from the county and not the legislative delegation.

“It is horrible to be excluded,” Ruderman said.

San Buenaventura echoed problems with miscommunication. She said she received a call from House Speaker Scott Saiki just before the meeting, asking for details about the $550 million the county is seeking.

“I didn’t even know there was a $550 million ask until I read it in the paper,” San Buenaventura said. “It’s really difficult to answer the questions, to be able to smooth these things through if we don’t know what the heck is going on.”

Kim said the plan is for the benefit of the whole island, which has suffered not only increased expenses for the government and a loss of tax dollars from ruined properties, but also a decrease in tourism due to the closure of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the prime tourist attraction on the island.

“The package is big, the dream is big, but I think it is very necessary,” Kim said.

ADVERTISING


The funding package includes creation of a redevelopment agency, housing for the displaced, a plan to rebuild affected areas, infrastructure and public facilities and economic development. The county’s goal is to make the island better than it was before the lava flow.

“We’re preparing for the ask of a lifetime,” said Planning Director Michael Yee, “as that will have lasting impacts for generations to come on this island.”