Hawaii County has increased the price tag of its draft Kilauea disaster recovery plan to $680 million as administrators begin to make their pitch to state lawmakers.
The proposal, which remains a work in progress, goes beyond providing housing for those displaced by the eruption or relocating farmers. It also seeks to create new or improved economic centers in the underserved district, and a redevelopment agency with authority to make it happen.
Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, said the intent is to take the opportunity to make Puna a more “sustainable” place to live.
“Because right now, it’s substandard subdivisions,” he said, “and awful traffic. And if we just threw people into the existing pattern of development, we’re just going to exacerbate that situation.”
The bulk of the funding is expected to come from federal sources, assuming the recovery grants are approved, he said. The state could be asked to chip in a net amount of $150 million, with the county contributing $35 million based on the most recent estimates, he said.
But lawmakers aren’t giving the county the green light yet for a special session of the Legislature, which Takemoto said needs to be held before October. Otherwise, the requests would have to wait until the 2019 regular session.
During a meeting Monday, leaders in the Legislature and representatives from Hawaii Island met with county officials to discuss the recovery proposal.
State Sen. Kai Kahele, D-Hilo, said the legislators told Kim they need more information before convening a special session that would be needed to approve more aid. He said the county was given two weeks to come back with more information about what it needs in the short-term for funding and how it has spent the $12 million Gov. David Ige provided for disaster response.
“I think the basic bottom line is the Legislature wants to help,” Kahele said. “In what shape or form, we’re not sure. We’re waiting for the county to tell us what they need.”
There were concerns that legislators who represent the disaster area weren’t involved early enough in the process, he said.
“The communication between the county administration and the legislators, especially the area legislators, up to this point has not been good,” Kahele said.
Takemoto said the county wanted to present a fuller picture before bringing everyone to the table.
“I think the first thing was to have something that everybody could give feedback on,” he said.
Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara said there are still pieces missing.