Disaster bill packed with aid for Big Island, including funds for HVNP, HVO, farmers

  • Lava flows from Kilauea volcano’s lower Easte Rift Zone in Puna in this May 19, 2018, U.S. Geological Survey photo. (USGS photo, file/Special to WHT)

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo Piihonua resident Margaret Collins looks out over flood damage from Hurricane Lane in the Piihonua neighborhood Aug. 24, 2018, in Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald In this Aug. 23, 2018, photo, people stand near flood waters from Hurricane Lane in Hilo.

HILO — The long-delayed $19.1 billion disaster relief bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday contains some “sorely needed” funds for Hawaii Island and other parts of the state struggling to recover from natural disasters.

The legislation, which President Trump has said he will sign, includes $78 million for the National Park Service to repair damage caused by volcanoes, hurricanes, typhoons and wildfires. The funding will benefit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which suffered extensive damage in 2018 from Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone eruption.

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“I was very glad to hear about the bill’s passage by the House,” said Rhonda Loh, acting superintendent of HVNP. “This is a big step towards moving the park’s recovery efforts forward.”

The bill also includes $49 million for a Hawaiian Volcano Observatory replacement facility and another $20.1 million to help HVO operate in a transitional space by paying for rent, replacement of instruments and equipment, and other costs.

HVO, which was stationed in the national park, was forced to relocate after extensive earthquakes during the eruption damaged its facility behind the Jaggar Museum.

U.S. Reps. Tuslsi Gabbard and Ed Case, both Hawaii Democrats, lauded the bill’s passage.

“Many people in communities across Hawaii continue to struggle as they recover from the damage caused by an active volcano, major landslides and serious flooding,” Gabbard said in a statement. “The 2018 hurricane season was one of the worst in recent history. This emergency supplemental appropriations bill will help our state, and many others who have endured major natural disasters, continue the difficult path to rebuilding and recovering.”

“The Neighbor Islands bore the brunt of the damage from natural disasters of the past year,” Case said. “Oahu was also severely affected and the aftermath was felt throughout the state including disruption of our tourism and agriculture industries and beyond. These sorely needed funds will assist those affected to recover and carry on with their lives.”

Other parts of the bill that specifically would help Hawaii, include:

— $3 billion to help farmers struggling with crop and livestock losses due to various natural disasters during 2018 and 2019.

— $2.4 billion in Community Development Block Grants to help communities rebuild housing, businesses and infrastructure in the most impacted and distressed areas affected by major natural disasters.

— $1.7 billion for the Federal Highway Administration to reimburse states and territories for damage to roads and bridges in the National Highway System.

— $600 million for flood mitigation, disaster relief, long-term recovery and restoration of infrastructure in areas affected by major disasters in 2018 and 2019.

— $165 million to meet the educational needs of students in areas hard hit by natural disasters by restarting school operations, providing assistance to schools receiving displaced students, providing education services to homeless children and young people and providing mental health services to students and staff.

— $82 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to repair and restore facilities, roads, bridges and other infrastructure damaged by Hurricanes Lane, Florence and Michael and flooding associated with Hawaii’s mudslides, and the 2018 earthquakes. Of this, $50 million is allocated for coastal resiliency grants.

— $15 million for legal assistance in areas hard hit by natural disasters including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and floods.

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Prior to Monday’s 354-58 vote in the House, passage of the bill had been delayed for months due to a feud between Trump and congressional Democrats. The Senate passed the bill in May.

“Disasters and communities severely impacted by them don’t care about politics, and this critical measure just shouldn’t have been delayed over that,” Case said.

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