Puna residents identify reopening Hwy 132 as a top priority one year after eruption

Puna residents continue push to reopen Highway 132

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -A year after the first fissure opened in Leilani Estates the journey to rebuild the Puna community has begun — but residents say there are still critical challenges preventing them from recovery.

Affordable housing for those who’ve been displaced and mental health resources to help people cope with the intensity and loss of last year’s eruption are just two of the concerns residents have outlined for us over the last several days — but a top priority we keep hearing from every one is the need to restore access to Highway 132.

Residents have been rallying to get Highway 132 re-opened for months now. They’re frustrated, but refuse to give up their fight.

“It’s very difficult when you cannot get to your place and it’s there. So yeah, we are starting the healing process. When the roads are open and when the connectivity is created again - that’s when the healing happens. That’s when the people can get back home. Home is where the heart is and people’s hearts are still really aching to return,” described Smiley Burrows, a Kapoho Crater and Leilani Estates evacuee.

Bill San Filippo needed a helicopter to reach his home in the Lanipuna Gardens area for the first time.

“It was unbelievable to come back and both be exhilarated that we’re here and the house is here and kind of depressed that there’s so much damage to the trees and plants and fauna and of course our view, but overall we’re incredibly lucky that we have a house to come back to,” San Filippo explained.

He’s now able to utilize a road that Puna Geothermal Venture restored to access their site — but the permission he needs to come and go concerns him.

Hawaii County officials say re-opening Highway 132 is a priority and they hope to complete a temporary road over the 3 miles of lava-covered portions by September or October.

“It sounds like (Highway 132) is going to be open by this fall — so that will make a year and a half since we’ve been able to live there and that’s a long time. Yes, we have to wait until the lava is cool enough but when they put the Geothermal Road in -- it was like: okay, if they can do that - why can’t we go home?” asked Debra Smith, a Lighthouse Kipuka resident in an area part of Vacationland. “We just want to go home We love it out there — even with all the changes. It’s still home.”

County officials estimate the cost to build a temporary road over Highway 132 old reach up to $2 million — and that’s the price tag just for grading what is needed not removing the entire flow. Full restoration of the highway could cost up to $50 million.

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