Clarification on FEMA Funding
Hawai‘i County, and the Puna District specifically, received important news last week regarding the obligation of $61 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for replacing public roads lost during the 2018 Kīlauea eruption. The County is grateful for these funding resources, as infrastructure is an important part of the recovery process; however, additional clarification is needed about where the County stands regarding key decisions for road restoration.
Since the eruption, the County has restored Highway 132, with use of Federal Highway Administration funding, and built a temporary road over lava flows covering portions of Highway 137 to provide access to Isaac Hale Beach Park. Following consultation with the County’s Kīlauea Disaster Recovery Task Force, a decision was announced in March to also restore Pohoiki Road with the anticipated FEMA funds. The County is working to get that project ready for the start of construction and looks forward to being able to announce a timeline.
It’s important to note that, while funding has been approved, decisions about whether to restore additional public roads, or to what extent, remain under evaluation. Issues being considered as part of that include: public safety, access to isolated properties, economic development, and mitigation of risk from future eruptions. We respectfully ask for the community’s continued patience as those issues are resolved.
FEMA provides flexibility in how the funds can be used. For example, if a road isn’t restored, or not fully restored, those unused funds can be allocated to alternative projects in Puna. Alternatives can include other infrastructure projects, such as improving other roads, construction of facilities, or hazard mitigation. Assessments of potential alternative projects would occur after decisions have been made about restoring public roads that were inundated by lava.
The announcement last week followed the County and FEMA agreeing on about $82 million in costs to public roads damaged by the eruption, minus Highway 132. The County is responsible for covering 25% of that, or about $20.5 million, and will use loans provided by the State to cover its share.
The recovery team wishes to express its gratitude to our partners, particularly the people of Puna, as we work together to recover from this disaster.