Lava recovery plan released

Three long-awaited documents that aim to guide Hawaii County’s recovery from the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano — a recovery and resilience plan, an economic recovery plan, and a volcanic risk assessment — have been released.

The 4-month-long eruption, which began May 3, 2018, in Leilani Estates, covered 13.7 square miles in lava and created 875 acres of new land along the Puna coast. More than 700 homes and other structures were destroyed.

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“The 2018 eruption was a devastating event for many that changed our lives and our landscape,” County Disaster Recovery Officer Douglas Le said in a news release Friday. “But every disaster creates opportunities to learn from the past and shape our future. With the assistance of state and federal disaster funding, the Kilauea Recovery and Resilience Plan and its supporting documents will help residents secure housing, build a more resilient economy, prepare for future disasters, and protect our natural and cultural resources.”

Le said Friday that the Recovery and Resilience Plan is the over-arching document to support recovery from the eruption.

A guiding strategic document, the plan identifies a number of projects around three core strategies: eruption recovery, disaster readiness and community resilience.

Thirty-one projects have been identified, and include efforts to address infrastructure, housing and initiatives that are community-led and county-supported, among others. Work on many of the projects already is underway.

Meanwhile, Le said the economic recovery plan provides a “robust snapshot of data” for the year following the eruption.

The economic plan measures impacts in terms of lost business revenue, the loss of real property and infrastructure, and job loss.

The volcanic risk assessment provides an analysis of volcanic hazards around the island.

“The volcanic risk assessment serves an analytical tool (and) data to help inform these future conversations about how do we plan for natural hazards and risks in our land use on this island,” Le said.

Le said that the recovery planning process began with community engagement, which included work with the Puna Community Development Action Committee.

“It was really important that we began the recovery conversations (with) what we already knew the community had articulated in terms of needs and opportunities for the district,” he said.

From spring 2019 into early 2020, Le said the county engaged the community on different levels: large-scale community events, smaller talk story sessions, and discussions with community associations about needs and what recovery would look like.

Le said the planning process was important following the eruption to determine the next steps in the recovery process.

“The resources made available for recovery are unprecedented for this county,” he said. “The plans, I think, help bring people together around implementing and taking action toward recovery.”

Le said state and federal partners also need to know what the county’s long-term plans are.

While recovery efforts have been ongoing as the plans were being developed, Le said there’s a clear desire within the community and the county to be able to take further action.

Although the documents initially were expected to be completed a year ago, Le said that between community engagement, technical analysis and ongoing work with the county’s recovery task force, the process took more time.

“We’re excited to be able to release the plans now and refocus on implementation, with the planning process pau,” he said.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, however, said, “none of these (plans) are going to save us.”

“It puts people and the aina at the center, so I see these plans as a blueprint for building a more diversified, resilient economy from the ground up,” she said Friday. “But I think in order to bounce forward and get to this place of sustainability and thriving, every single stakeholder — being government, business or community — we need to own our role. We’ve got to lean into our role. We’ve got to get aligned, and we’ve got to be nimble. Where possible, we’ve got to remove barriers and dare to do things differently.

“I just feel so often we’ve paid lip service to economic diversification, and now is our chance to really make that happen.”

While Kierkiewicz feels the recovery and resilience plan is an expansion of the interim recovery strategy she helped craft more than a year ago, the economic recovery plan “just affirms we have everything we need here on island and that we just have this potential to be a model to the world in so many different ways.”

Although the county estimates that at least 3,600 people provided input into the recovery plan, Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder said the community needed to have a bigger voice.

Kanealii-Kleinfelder said, too, that people’s outlooks and priorities have changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

People need to read the plans and make sure they still align with their beliefs now, he said.

The councilman, however, said more action needs to be taken.

“What’s important is we need to move,” he said. “We need to move forward. We’re two years in. There has to be action or people get frustrated and lose interest in participating. That’s what we want to avoid.”

Hawaii County contracted with Tetra Tech in April 2019 for the recovery strategic plan and volcanic risk mitigation strategy.

The county worked with the Institute for Sustainable Development on the economic recovery plan.

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The recovery plans can be found online at recovery.hawaiicounty.gov/planning/recovery-plans-strategies.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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