Hawaii councilors accuse county of slow volcano recovery

HILO — Hawaii County Council members have accused the county’s administrators of a slow response in enacting programs to assist the public’s recovery from the Kilauea volcanic eruption two years ago.

A meeting of the council’s Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development last week included heated questions about the pace of infrastructure recovery projects in the Puna area, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

The eruption that began in May 2018 destroyed 612 homes and much of lower Puna was covered in lava, the county has said.

Disaster recovery officer Doug Le provided the committee with a summary of the progress by the county’s Kilauea Recovery Task Force.

While the county secured more than $260 million from various sources for recovery projects, Le said nearly all projects involve several government agencies with various requirements and changing plans that determine how the money is spent.

Le’s report drew the ire of some councilors.

“A recovery plan, road restoration plan, economic recovery plan, master plan, tourism strategy plan, feasibility study,” Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy said. “I cannot help but feel frustrated for this community. We’re sitting on $260 million, and all we have to show for it is plans.”

Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz noted that an economic recovery plan and a resilience and recovery plan scheduled to be completed by the end of last year have not moved beyond a preliminary draft.

Councilman Tim Richards said he was “deeply concerned” with the slow pace of progress.

Mayor Harry Kim said he understands the frustrations of the Puna community, but said the process is likely going as fast as possible. The delays are primarily the result of the involvement of various state and federal agencies, he said.

“We got (Highway 132) finished as quickly as we did because that was a state highway,” Kim said. “All the money came from the state. We didn’t have to do all that much. But the rest of these projects don’t follow that process.”

Le said progress should be measured by what the recovery team has accomplished without the resources of other agencies, citing $3.7 million for 18 recovery grants to nonprofit groups announced last week.

“The ability to start these projects and to provide the direct resources to regain access, to reestablish farms, that’s what the real work looks like,” Le said.

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