Preliminary price tag: $550M. Kim seeks lava relief from the Legislature

  • Mayor Harry Kim defends his administration's lava response Tuesday before a skeptical County Council. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)
  • Lava in the fissure 8 channel is now crusted over. Fissure 8 and other inactive fissures are steaming in the background, a common sight during early morning overflights (U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY photo)

HILO — Mayor Harry Kim plans to ask the state Legislature for $550 million for disaster recovery following three months of destructive lava flows and earthquakes in the wake of the May 3 eruption of Kilauea volcano.

Kim said Tuesday that he discussed a conceptual plan with Gov. David Ige on Saturday, and county staff is putting together a legislative package in advance of a yet-to-be-scheduled special session of the Legislature. Kim’s top administrators declined to release the plan until after it is sent to legislative leaders later this week.

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But Kim said the original plan was pegged at $500 million, and has already increased even as the lava emergency continues. Eruption activity has taken a pause, but scientists are unsure if it’s stopped for good.

The ongoing crisis is one reason a detailed plan is taking longer than anticipated. But a plan must be ironed out before the Legislature will meet to consider funding. Either the legislative leadership or the governor can request a special session.

“We continue to work with Mayor Kim to ensure that we have the necessary resources to keep the community safe and develop the long-term recovery plan for Hawaii County,” Ige said Tuesday through a spokeswoman. “We need to identify what the specific needs are, the costs attached and the timeline before we consider a special session.”

Recovery includes temporary housing, relocation of farms and visitor industry enhancement, said Planning Director Michael Yee in a printed presentation to the County Council Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development. That discussion will continue today after the council ran out of time with crowded committee agendas.

The administration asked the council to provide feedback on its legislative package by Aug. 14 and consider a joint resolution on the legislative package. The council in June unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution asking a special session be scheduled. At the time, county officials said that could happen in mid-August, but the county needed to have a plan ready first.

“We lost something so special that was there for thousands of years,” Kim said. “The sadness will be there forever.”

Many members of the public are more than sad. They’re also frustrated, emotional, going broke and tired of living in limbo.

Some 700 homes have been destroyed and many people whose homes still stand are not allowed to live in them. Some homes are cut off by lava flows and are unreachable; others are in risky voluntary evacuation zones where they are allowed to visit their homes for a few hours under escort.

Businesses in Pahoa town and Volcano Village are bleeding money as they try to serve the few tourists that still find their way to their establishments. The entire county is taking a hit from tourism slowdowns, as well as lost property taxes from ruined neighborhoods.

Almost 30 people, primarily from hard-hit Leilani Estates, spent several hours laying out to the council a litany of problems, gripes and concerns about county, state and federal response to the lava emergency. They ranged from elderly on Social Security who want only to return to their homes to business owners asking for property tax breaks as they try to hang on.

“We are really months and months away before we see any relief,” said Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, who represents the Puna district that’s hardest hit.

“They’re on the verge of going out of business,” she said of local businesses.

So far, the county has had assistance from the federal Emergency Management Agency and $12 million in emergency assistance from the state. But that money can be used only for immediate emergency response needs such as shelters and personnel.

In comparison, Kauai received $100 million from the Legislature for disaster recovery after devastating flooding. Oahu also received money from the Legislature for flooding on that island, with an extra $25 million appropriated statewide. Some of that rapid response was due to timing, as the Legislature was in its regular session when the need arose.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman, a Democrat representing Puna and Ka‘u, is among those frustrated that the county hasn’t pushed the Legislature for action. Ruderman met with Senate leadership in June, trying to work out logistics for a special session.

Ruderman said county officials need to ask for what they need; and not downplay the county’s plight or ask for a little now and then ask for more later. The county needs to build roads and parks lost to lava, create housing, rebuild the agriculture industry and stimulate economic development through tourism, he said.

“It’s my strong recommendation that we ask for plenty of money and not be shy about it,” Ruderman said. “It’s not the time to be small, it’s not the time to be cautious about it. … Like a batter stepping up to the plate, we have one shot at this. … Please be bold about your request for money.”

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Kim conceded there are some things he could have done some things differently, but he defended his administration. Everyone has put in countless hours staffing the Civil Defense office 24/7 and providing emergency services, he said.

“I have a right to kill myself on this, but I don’t have a right to kill staff members over what I’ve asked of them,” Kim said. “I’m sure we did some things we could have done better … but what we’re trying to do here I think is only one mission — to do what is best for the people of this island.”

  1. Scooby August 8, 2018 5:54 am

    “Like a batter stepping up to the plate, we have one shot at this.” No Russell, a batter has three strikes before he’s out and could quite well hit multiple foul balls and take four balls and earn a walk….typical clueless politician! Stick to the healthy food.


    1. Hawaii Voting August 8, 2018 9:10 am

      What’s your plan?


      1. Scooby August 8, 2018 10:07 am

        Plan for what? To not say dumb analogies? If you’re asking about my plan to have the county and state bail out these property owners and renters out with Tax payers money, no way amigo. If an uninsured home burns in Kona will the county bail them out? Treat everyone the same.


        1. Hawaii Voting August 8, 2018 10:56 am

          Neh, I could follow your “strikes and foul ball” analogy. I’m wondering if you have any ideas or solutions.

          Was reading your previous comment from 6 months ago, “Lets face it Harry Kim is out of control with his spending and the chart proves it. 2000-2008 he was the Mayor and during that time government increased exponentially. He’s back and that chart is starting to climb yet again in only one year. He and his old buddies are ripping off the county with huge raises and nothing to show for it. He’s lucky he has a huge supporter writing his articles, its all roses for Harry.”

          Have you put together a plan? Back to the batting cage? Which other state rep or senator has a plan? Which other state rep or senator is speaking up to help folks in their district? Isn’t it appropriate for at least one elected official to speak up for Puna?


          1. Scooby August 8, 2018 11:21 am

            What about the rest of the Island and State? So we neglect them for a few? And frankly, every politician makes promises they can’t keep, Harry makes a lot and has done nothing but raise taxes and increase the size of government. Russell will pound tables and demand other people/politicians do their job…all while owning a multi-million dollar business that has flourished during these times.


          2. Hawaii Voting August 8, 2018 1:04 pm

            Agreed, let’s encourage other state reps and senators to get involved.

            I’m a fan of Russell’s business. Island Naturals provides a place to sit and eat cafe-style with our friends. They support local small family farmers. It’s a healthy industry and exactly the kind of industry we should teach kids to grow.

            I really hope organic farming and eating can become more popular.


          3. metalman808 August 8, 2018 3:50 pm

            Well after Harry raised the property tax farming of any kind will get more expensive. And now the GT tax was raised so food is gonna get more expensive. Now you’ll have a lot to talk about with your friends as you reach deeper into your pockets for a veggie sandwich. Between the budget and lava flow Harry wants a BILLION dollars.


          4. KonaRich August 8, 2018 6:46 pm

            Yes I too can see organic farming and eating in cafe style restaurants as the next thing to replace tourism & the military. Now lets all think of ways to export these great ideas to make Hawaii great again. I vote we just go all out Socialism and get it over with.


          5. KonaRich August 8, 2018 7:08 pm

            I remember Harry from back then, he used the Kona side as his piggy bank and spent most of the taxes collected from Kona side, on the Hilo side and you Hilo folks loved it. Use to go Hilo side to enjoy driving good road bought and payed for by us Kona tax payer. He never ever even thew us a bone in his years,back then. There was talk of spiting the island into 2 counties until the recession hit.
            To the people on the Hilo and Puna district, “the chicken have come home to roost”, Enjoy your Harry Kim. You revoted him in.


          6. Ernest T Bass August 8, 2018 7:30 pm

            The plan? 37% COUNTY RAISES and they are now just entering phase TWO of the Mayors appointed SALARY COMMISSION.
            Meanwhile business and tourist guests are REAMED.


  2. metalman808 August 8, 2018 7:50 am

    To bad Harry didn’t do what’s best for the people when he raised all our taxes. Just got my property tax bill that has increased. Increase? I still have no sewer. My roads are horrible. There’s no parks no sidewalks no nothing. And I have to pay Harry Kim $1500.00. Thanks for nothing. Enjoy your raise. And keep having your spokes persons talk for you while your out spending MY money.


  3. guest August 8, 2018 9:02 am

    550 million? Is everyone out of their mind? The state legislature will likely think they are but then again they are the ones building the train. Prepare for more tax increases with nothing to show for it except the expectation of more tax increases, these people know nothing else. Build/invest in an active zone then complain about the results? The insanity continues.


  4. Ernest T Bass August 8, 2018 7:27 pm

    VOTE THE INCUMBENTS OUT on the 11th.
    I am tired of being squeezed by the county.
    Volcano Village….you are KILLING US COUNTY.
    The county won’t even talk about the HUGE Tax Increases as our property became worthless…..the COUNTY Raises Taxes?????
    Vote these m fcks OUT on the 11th.
    We can hardly do worse than wjat the county is forcing upon communities that do NOT Have the money to play their game.
    I VOTE and I am really pzzed off at incumbants.
    You can not insist on squeezing MY business blood from a rock.
    I have to fail so the County gets Raises??????
    NO


  5. Ernest T Bass August 8, 2018 7:34 pm

    Right the “STATE”is going to grant 550 million dollars ( Half a BILLION ) when they cant keep up with their boondoggle Oahu Mass Transit ?
    The one that cost EVER MORE MONEY without ever being completed.
    Hawaii Taxpayers are being fc kcd at every opportunity by the county and state.


  6. Ernest T Bass August 8, 2018 7:39 pm

    Taxpayers….you got a choice….worthless IGE or Worthless Hanabusa…..just shoot me now.THAT is not a choice.
    It is yesterdays leftovers but that is all that is on the menu.
    WE LOSE either way with Union Shills such as these.


  7. Hawaii Voting August 9, 2018 2:31 pm

    How much does Hawaii County have set aside for natural disaster recovery?


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