Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022 |
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The few remaining homes in Kapoho might get their water restored after all.
At Tuesday’s Revitalize Puna event — a quarterly community meeting aimed at helping Puna recover from the 2018 Kilauea eruption —county officials provided updates about several infrastructure recovery projects in the area.
Among the projects discussed was an updated list of potential water improvement projects in and around Puna.
Last year, the county Department of Water Supply unveiled a list of 13 projects it could pursue using about $30 million in funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but because the cost of those projects exceeded the funds, residents were urged to submit feedback regarding which should be pursued.
On Tuesday, DWS Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto returned with a whittled-down list of eight projects. One of those, however, was a new project that would restore waterlines along Highway 137 and Kapoho Road.
County Recovery Officer Douglas Le said the eight priority projects was determined in part by community feedback and feasibility assessments, which determined that a reduced-scale waterline to Kapoho could be a possibility.
Previously, Okamoto had said that the county would not be pursuing water restoration work in Kapoho, with County Planning Director Zendo Kern saying that such an investment would not make sense given the current low population of the area.
The other seven projects on the list include a waterline replacement on Pohoiki Road, opening wells in Keaau, and waterline remediation and improvements in Kalapana, Nanawale, Hawaiian Paradise Park, Pahoa town and Post Office Road.
All eight are estimated to cost a collective $41 million.
Le said the eight priority projects are not necessarily set in stone. If some of those are found to be geologically or financially unfeasible, DWS will pursue alternate projects such as other well installations and improvements, and a boat wash near the intersection of Pohoiki Road and Highway 132.
“The boat wash in particular — that’s meant to be a back-up in case we aren’t able to restore water to Pohoiki,” Le said.
Although people who virtually attended Tuesday’s event were pleased to hear the county is now prioritizing water restoration to Kapoho — residents cheered the announcement in comments online — some were less pleased to hear about projects elsewhere in Puna.
In particular, Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said the county will not restore Ahalanui Beach Park, which was inundated by lava in 2018. Messina said the county went to FEMA in 2019 with estimates that it would cost over $21 million to restore Ahalanui and another $15 million to restore Isaac Hale Beach Park.
After negotiations with FEMA, the final funding approved by FEMA totaled just under $5 million for both parks.
Consequently, Messina said Parks and Recreation will use $3 million to make improvements at Isaac Hale, and another $1.76 million to purchase sorely needed equipment for the department, including a rubbish truck, dump trucks, excavators and more. The terms of the FEMA grant agreement allow some flexibility in how the funds are used, Le said.
Residents attending the meeting urged the county to reconsider, with many pointing out that, with Isaac Hale significantly harder to access after the eruption, a restored Ahalanui would be Puna’s only beach park.
Amedeo Markoff, president of the Mainstreet Pahoa Association, a nonprofit that works on behalf of businesses in Pahoa, said the county’s decision to not pursue Ahalanui restoration was “unacceptable” and requested that the county release usage numbers for both beach parks to defend their decision.
“We still want to bring safe swimming back to Puna,” Le said, but added that Ahalanui has been more than just inundated by lava — it has been completely replaced by new land created by the eruption. That land, he said, is jagged and rough and not suitable for safe swimming or other recreation without substantial resources.
As for Isaac Hale, Le said a series of in-person Revitalize Pohoiki meetings over the next several weeks will allow residents to help determine what improvements to the park are made.
Other project updates at Tuesday’s event included a range of potential realignment routes for lower Pohoiki Road.
Five potential options for the project were delineated — three options for one stretch of road from its intersection with Highway 137, and two for the stretch immediately mauka of that — whose differences primarily involve the number of right-of-ways required for each, and the number of nearby mango trees that would be impacted.
Although Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst said he would prefer a road option that follows the existing road path, two of the options also would move the intersection of Pohoiki Road and Highway 137 further south than its current location.
Finally, Le said there have been 157 applicants to the second phase of the county’s Voluntary Housing Buyout Program, and there are currently 295 active phase 1 applications. Phase 2, which allows owners of secondary residences affected by the eruption to apply to have their property bought by the county, will end Jan. 31.
Materials from the event, as well as the times and locations of the Revitalize Pohoiki events scheduled over the next month, can be found at recovery.hawaiicounty.gov/revitalize-puna.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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