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

  • Senator Russell Ruderman.

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.


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.


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.”

  1. Buds4All August 9, 2018 4:28 am

    This is going to be a BIG Goat Rope with us paying the bill!

    1. CongressWorksForUs August 9, 2018 6:44 am

      No kidding.

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

      Kick-backs for everyone!

  2. Pest Outwest August 9, 2018 8:09 am

    Absolutely not. The park probably shouldn’t be touched for a couple of years, until it’s clear where the lava is going next (I assume the hot spot didn’t just suddenly shut off after millions of years). That’s a legitimate target for money, it is (or was) a tourist attraction, but all the private losses, why in the heck is that a public problem? Did we build houses between the lava flows of 1955 and 1960, assuming lighting wouldn’t strike a third time? No, that was a risk those people knew about, or should have, and built there anyway, because the land was cheap. Well, now we know why.

    And to even think about handing that much money to a government that’s proven over and over again to be completely incompetent beyond belief, that’s just a horror show of waste and graft waiting to happen.

    Tell you what, I’ll make a deal with you. Legalize marijuana, tax the crap out of it, and you can have those revenues for your grand plan. Otherwise, get stuffed.

    1. KonaDude August 9, 2018 8:57 am

      Once you legalize/tax it the price gets high enough that buying on the black market is still a viable option. Legalization will come with a whole new set of problems.

      1. Pest Outwest August 10, 2018 4:12 am

        Well, visit Seattle sometime. I’m sure there were some teething problems, but that seems to be all sorted out. I was very impressed by the professional packaging, the cheap prices and the astounding variety. Paradise. The only drawback is imposed by the government, forcing the shops to locate in some rather seedy neighborhoods rather than strip malls, which is just stupid, considering they sell liquor in every store.

        1. ypupule August 11, 2018 12:09 pm

          The stuff nowadays is probably way too strong for me — I’d probably be out after the first hit, lol.

          Must be great to have full and legal access to all the best stuff, though. Think the ability to select varieties based on the qualities of high they give you is especially appealing. Used to dislike the heavy, zombie-like stone a lot of the Hilo stuff imparted. Much preferred Puna Butter and some of the fruity, Maui stuff, which seemed to give you more of an “up” high, less mind-numbing.

          1. Ernest T Bass August 11, 2018 2:41 pm

            like charlie the tuna says…”we want tuna that taste good not tuna with good taste.”

      2. ypupule August 11, 2018 11:55 am

        Oregon specifically created low barriers to entry in order to eliminate a black market for weed. But it’s apparently resulted in a glut that has dropped prices so low — in half — that many in the pot industry are now going out of business.

    2. bluemoki August 10, 2018 9:39 am

      The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a Federal asset, so no money should be spent on it from either the State or County funds. The feds have plenty of our tax dollars already to fix whatever is broke there.

  3. Ernest T Bass August 9, 2018 8:21 am

    I wish I had the faith in our local government that this huge amount of money would be spent Wisely.
    I look at our election ballots this week and can only moan at the prospect of having this group of local politicians getting it right and spending this money judiciously.
    The county will spend 10 times as much as private Big Island contractors would charge for the most basic of projects.
    We need the assist but honestly I have to vote No ( or very little ) confidence in our self serving Big Island / State gene pool of Union Sponsored politicians.

  4. KonaLife August 9, 2018 9:43 am

    Did they misplace a decimal point? On the same home page of WHT, we see that the County spent $5 millions dollars. Ok. Understandable. Now, it wants $550 from the State? This is government waste at it’s worst. Sure, we can all hide our heads in the sand and say that that $550 million comes from the State so we “win”, but the truth is that we all have to share the tax burden of this, and the next big storm or geologic event that happens on the other islands, the precedent will be set that everyone has to pay. I can guarantee you that we’ll all be complaining when Oahu spends $50 million on an event and requests $5 billion from the State’s tax payers. Same math 1:100. No, Mr. Kim, please do not “dream big” with my taxes!

    1. Ernest T Bass August 9, 2018 8:02 pm

      Think…Honolulu high speed rail and you have your answer.

  5. metalman808 August 9, 2018 11:47 am

    Isn’t that the same number he wanted for the budget. 550 million. Harrys trying so hard to get his BILLION. We can’t afford Harry and his money pigs.

    1. Ernest T Bass August 9, 2018 8:11 pm

      We …….the Big Island in reality are lucky to be able to afford loco moco.
      Whatever the county could DO IT for …..private SMALL Big Island business’s could do for a fraction.
      Any Public Funds coming in should be employed as much as HUMANLY ( not county ) possible to spend money on Local Private citizens that need the employment to rebuild.
      NOT a county Al you can eat Buffett…..
      The county workers are PURE UNION and Have already Incredible compensation and retirement and health care to mention a Few of county benefits….there ARE more.
      I would not give the county Free Reign with this sort of money….not for a UNION minute.
      Private sector damage….need and resources.
      Spend it and oversee the dispersal it APART from the county politicians.
      They already got a sweet deal and have the nerve to want more.
      No Confidence,

  6. ypupule August 11, 2018 12:13 pm

    Aside from the amount itself, they clearly weren’t properly prepared. Seems like more of a PR/political attempt to give the impression that they’re “doing something,” and are being “proactive.” And maybe they are… but gestures of show with no real substance are just another waste of time & money.

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