Residents cut off by volcano say more road openings needed

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Residents of a Hawaii island area who lost access to their properties in the Kilauea volcanic eruption say the county needs to expand a road restoration plan.

Hawaii County officials announced in June that the plan included restoration of all or parts of four roads in Puna covered by lava in the 2018 eruption, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

Hawaii County’s Voluntary Housing Buyout Program plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said 612 homes were destroyed during the Big Island eruption.

The road restoration plan using $82 million in county and federal funds includes Pohoiki Road, Leilani Avenue, Lighthouse Road and Highway 137, but some smaller residential streets were neglected by the county.

The decision was based on community engagement and technical analysis of the geological conditions and hazards of the roads, officials said.

While the announcement was met with excitement by many displaced residents, others were left wondering how to reach their homes.

Ralph Roubique said he recently returned to his property for the first time since lava destroyed his house. The property could be reached directly if the county restored less than a mile (1.61 kilometers) of roadway, he said.

“I can’t understand why the county doesn’t open all of them,” Roubique said. “If they’re county roads, they have an obligation to reopen them.”

Ian McArthur's property was isolated from road traffic but not destroyed and he said likely would cost no more than $50,000 to restore access.

McArthur reaches his home using a road cut across the top of the lava and with the permission of neighbors whose properties he passes through to reach his own.

“They’re saying I could apply for a grant,” McArthur said, questioning the suggestion made while the county anticipates using federal funding.

McArthur said he has no plans to sell his property through the Voluntary Housing Buyback Program, although he said it could be worth at least $100,000.

“The funny thing is, (Hawaiian Electric) is fine with hooking us up to power again,” McArthur said. “We can have power, we can have water, but no roads.”