By Bett Bidleman
Thirteen people testified this morning before County Council in Hilo re the proposed Leilani Estates relief shelter, which has since been renamed the “Lower Puna Community Relief Center.” Seven testifiers supported efforts to provide emergency evacuation services, but criticized locating the first lower Puna evacuation center in the middle of Leilani, a few blocks from the East rift zone and 2 miles downwind from the geothermal plant. The remaining six were mostly Leilani Community Association board members who are also CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members in support of the Leilani shelter. Their concern was not a geothermal disaster but hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes/lava inundations happening somewhere other than Leilani.
Jay Bondesen, spokesperson for the LCA/CERT group, summed up their stance in his testimony. “The geothermal plant was not on my mind as a priority.”
Some of those in opposition to funding the shelter without further study of other locations noted that they had not heard from the newly appointed Civil Defense Chief Ben Fuata. Council Chair Dominic Yagong called a recess so that a call could be made to Fuata’s office.
Fuata is off island until June 12. He has served since 1993 as Commander of the Army Aviation Support Facility in Hilo. He is also the Hawaii National Guard’s director for logistics. In Fuata’s absence, his administrative officer, Bill Hanson, filled in for him. Hanson is a proponent of community self-reliance during environmental disasters and is the coordinator of CERT groups on the Big Island. “We do not object,” Hanson said, about the Leilani proposal, because it falls in line, he said, with “building capacity” of communities to defend themselves.
Hanson added that building an emergency shelter in Leilani “fit” parameters of the Geothermal Asset Fund, ostensibly inferring that these funds might be tapped to pursue this project.
After hearing Hanson’s support for the project, the Council voted unanimously to approve it. Read more