HILO — The emergency road connecting Highway 137 to Pohoiki and other areas isolated by lava has been completed, but access might still be a way off.
Diane Ley, director of the Hawaii County Department of Research and Development, said the work of grading a two-lane road across the lava flow on Highway 137 south of Pohoiki Road in lower Puna was completed earlier this week.
The road was constructed as an emergency access route for residents with property around Pohoiki Road that was isolated by the lava flows earlier this year, although it also will allow access to Isaac Hale Beach Park, which is located within the isolated zone.
Because the county will not remove lava until at least six months since the cessation of volcanic activity generated by Kilauea — owing to a core of still-hot lava beneath the cooled surface — the emergency route instead consists of a paved-over graded path over the top of the flow.
However, access to the emergency route cannot begin until Isaac Hale Beach Park is made fit for reopening, Ley said.
“The next step is to make efforts to assess the condition of Isaac Hale before we can take any steps to reopen it,” she said.
Ley said the Hawaii Police Department has conducted a sweep of the park, but further examination needs to be completed in order to make sure the park is safe for people to visit. In particular, Ley said, the lagoon now present at the park — encompassed by a newly formed black sand beach — needs to be inspected for health issues.
Mayor Harry Kim said dead fish have been found in some of the newly formed ponds and that further water tests have yet to be completed.
In addition, new signage has to be installed in the park, and guardrails, road signs and centerlines need to be installed on the access route.
Ley said the park initially was expected to be opened in December, but the plans for how the park will be restored have since changed.
“Unfortunately, we won’t be able to solve the potable water system save through portables,” Kim said.
Because the park’s waterlines were cut by the lava flow, the park’s restrooms will be unusable, so visitors will have to rely on portable toilets.
Kim said the county is still aiming for a December opening date for the park.
Until the park is reopened, access to the road across the flow will be restricted by a locked gate located just north of MacKenzie State Recreation Area, Ley said. After the park reopens, the gate will be open during daylight hours.
“We don’t want anyone staying at the park after dark,” Ley said.
Kim said there will not be a checkpoint system restricting access to the area like there is at Leilani Estates, explaining the secluded zone is primarily farmland and includes few residences to be disrupted by incoming visitors.
“That’s about the worst thing we could do,” Kim said, adding that the county is determined to open the park quickly for the public to enjoy.
Ley said the county has been in communication with those who reside in or have property within the secluded zone, and that residents and property owners will be permitted access to the area before the general public.
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