Lawmakers approve $60M to help Big Island’s lava-ravaged communities

Updated: Mar. 29, 2019 at 5:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers have approved $60 million in disaster relief for the Big Island, which was hit hard by last summer’s Kilauea eruption.

The proposal includes $20 million in grants and $40 million in state loans ― and is on top of $22 million already appropriated by the state.

“The first thing we are going to do is to look at (repairing) the roads, number one. We’re going to look at water lines and restoring some of the parks that were devastated by lava,” said Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe.

“But also we’re going to look to build affordable housing.”

Big Island lawmakers expressed gratitude for the money but said more will be needed.

“My community has been hard hit, 16,000 acres inundated by lava. It is difficult to rebuild when your house is completely destroyed under 30 feet of molten rock," said state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, who represents Puna.

Added state Sen. Russell Ruderman:

“What this represents is the best we can do for funds needed this year but it doesn’t represent what’s needed in the full long-term recovery," he said.

Lawmakers also expect the federal government to chip in. They said the state funding will make it easier to obtain emergency funds from FEMA, which typically provides three times the amount.

Along with new housing and road repairs, lawmakers said some of the money will also go businesses affected by the disaster.

“Best estimates the impact on our economy is a $500 million loss. We saw that primarily in the tourism side," said Big Island Councilmember Tim Richards.

The bill has gone to the governor’s office to be signed.

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