Work to restore lava-covered potion of Highway 132 begins

  • Signs inform visitors that the area is restricted where the lava crosses Highway 132 in Pahoa. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Construction has started on restoring lava-covered portions of Highway 132, an approximately 3.2-mile stretch.

The project was described as an “initial ‘temporary’ access restoration phase” in a May 30 email by county Public Works Director David Yamamoto.

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“Temporary does not mean anything of roughness or anything like that. This will be a very good highway,” Mayor Harry Kim said.

Asked if the road will be similar to what has been done with Highway 137 to allow access to Isaac Hale Beach Park in Pohoiki, Kim replied, “Much better than that” — because it will be paved.

Kim said the dateline for completion of the project is “the first week of October, to qualify for federal funds, 100 percent reimbursement.”

“Because of that, I guarantee that’s when we’re going to finish,” he said.

Two contractors — Isemoto Contracting Co. and Ludwig Construction Inc. — were selected in what Kim described as a “running bid” process, where equipment, manpower and time will be factored into the price tag, which Yamamoto estimated at $11.9 million.

The National Weather Service has forecast a wetter-than-usual dry season, but Kim is optimistic the project will be completed on time, regardless.

Kim said roughly 50 homes remain in what has been called the “kipuka” area. Those homes haven’t been destroyed but have been isolated because of the lava flows, some more than 40-feet in height, covering the highway.

Puna Geothermal Venture has allowed about 200 residents to use a road across its property. The road is rough and requires four-wheel drive.

“Right now, a lot of them are using PGV’s road,” he said. “Also, 132 will connect with the farmers down at Waa Waa. They have to go through Hawaiian Beaches now. This will allow them to go directly through their farms.”

Deb Waterman, a Kapoho resident whose home is standing but isolated by the lava, said the start of road construction is “wonderful, wonderful news.”

“It’s about time,” she said. “We’re very happy.”

“We’ve been anxious to move back, but because my mother-in-law is 90, there’s no emergency services that can go through there unless there’s a real road. And no way to get my Mustang in and out over a road that rocky,” Waterman elaborated, referring to the access road provided by PGV.

Waterman’s family was able to find housing elsewhere in Puna, but is anxious to move back.

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“It’s a great feeling getting ready to come back home,” she said.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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