Suit to be filed against Hawaii County over disaster response, access

Suit to be filed against Hawaii County over disaster response, access
The security checkpoint at the entrance to Leilani Estates. (Source: Hawaii News Now/file)

BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - An attorney representing the Leilani Estates Community Association is taking Hawaii County to federal court over its handling of the lava disaster recovery process.

Attorney Mike Garbarino says he will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the coming days. Speaking on behalf of the association and the residents, he says there has been a significant lack of communication from the county in disaster recovery efforts.

“We’ve been trying to get a dialogue with the mayor’s office and with the county authorities since the lava began quieting down way back in August,” Garbarino said. “After the one meeting, which was back in August, we had no further contact. Just silence.”

He added that Civil Defense officials became the messenger, relaying decisions made about Leilani Estates without the input of the community board.

One change that is concerning residents is the end of a security check point at the entrance to the neighborhood.

The Hawaii Tribune Herald reports that FEMA has been paying 75 percent of the costs to operate the checkpoint, which costs about $100,000 a month.

The report said the federal aid is expected to end at the end of the month, meaning the county will either have to pay the bill for the checkpoint, or do away with it.

Residents are concerned that getting rid of the checkpoint will lead to an increase of loitering and crime in a neighborhood still recovering from the powerful act of Madam Pele.

The Community Association wants a preliminary injunction to ensure the checkpoint remains.

Garbarino added that most residents who attended a recent community meeting, about 50 people, were supportive of the legal action against the county.

“It’s going to take time, it’s going to take dialogue, and it’s going to take the local government listening to the primary victims of the disaster and working with us,” he said.

Hawaii News Now has reached out to the county for comment and have not yet heard back.

This story may be updated.

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