Commentary: Solutions for a Slow-motion Emergency??

by Alan McNarie


Yesterday, before peddling down the hill to spend the day in Hilo dealing with the Social Security bureaucracy,   I dashed off a quick post on Facebook:

“Here’s a little ‘outside the box’ idea: if the Pahoa Highway gets cut, what are the possibilities of establishing a ferry service or water taxi between, say, Pohoiki and Hilo? Has anyone considered this as at least a temporary alternative?”

By the end of the day, the post had drawn 25 “likes” and well over 50 comments, including one that tagged Shane Turpin of Lava Ocean Adventures.  Turpin took the idea and ran with it, e-mailing the county a proposal to use his catamaran, which seats 49, to run a ferry service between Pohoiki and Hilo, taking  about an hour each way. By yesterday evening, Turpin had set up a new Facebook page,  Lavaocean Transport, to support the idea.  Within three hours of its introduction, it had 70 members.  Turpin said he hadn’t heard back from the County yet, but one resident reported  that last night, at a meeting with Pahoa merchants about the lava crisis, Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira mentioned that he was “in touch” with Turpin.

The county and state have focused mostly on selecting and establishing an alternate land route–which they have been debating, without accomplishing, ever since I moved here  from Missouri, 26 years ago, and just finally began construction on today.  Meanwhile, the ferry service  isn’t the only outside-the-box idea that’s floating around out there.  Hawaii’s  citizens are proposing everything from zip lines to hovercraft to converting  the Pahoa bypass into an airstrip.  Some of those ideas aren’t practical of course. But some, like the boat service and the air strip, are probably doable much faster than the alternate land route.  Shortly after moving here, my then-wife and I drove our Ram-50 pickup from Kapoho to Hilo via Old Government Beach Road and Railroad Avenue, but we had to drive over 5-foot saplings to do it.  Those saplings have since had a quarter-century to turn into trees. It’s taken us over a month just to clear fallen albizia limbs off existing roads in the wake of Tropical Storm Iselle, and  the job’s still not completely done.  Forty-nine boat commuters aren’t going to compensate for a highway that carries 7,000 cars a day, but if we can get a few more boats on board and have hourly departures, and it could make a dent–especially when the replacement for that highway is dirt road.

I’ve just finished a long article for our print edition, about near miraculous mobilization of government agencies, non-profits, businesses and community volunteers formed in  the wake  of Tropical Storm Iselle.  Almost overnight, hundreds of people, many of whom had never even met before, formed an ad-hoc network  that flooded tons of food, ice and volunteers into the stricken communities.  Big factors in that effort were the social media and Facebook pages such as  Iselle Recovery Assistance–Offers and Requests, which allowed ideas and information  to spread almost instantly, uniting those in need with those who could help.  Oft-fractious Puna proved, in a spectacular fashion, what it could do when it pulled together.

We need to do that again.  Unfortunately, with the slow-motion emergency that is lava’s nature,  our natural fractiousness has had time to assert itself again in some of those numerous public meetings that the county has organized.  But one of the things I’ve always loved about this place is its huge reserve of  creativity; there’s more imagination abroad in little Pahoa than in the entirety of  Kansas City or St. Louis.  Out there in the community, ideas are moving at the speed of light.  Can our ponderous bureaucracy keep up?

Unfortunately, what moves slower than lava?  Bureaucracy.

(He says with a sigh, as he embarks on his third day of trying to get one Social Security form filed.)

4 replies
  1. sada anand kaur
    sada anand kaur says:

    Love this simple creative idea, a ferry to Hilo!
    May end up costing less than gas price of driving from Puna to Hilo daily for those who work in Hilo.

  2. NeighborWatch
    NeighborWatch says:

    funny I posted the ferry comment last week on Puna Happenings, it’s a logical next step. Only a 49 seater and an hour and a half one way isn’t going to be practical. At what price per one way ticket?
    Bet some people are wishing that Super Ferry didn’t sail away now.
    But hey! how difficult is it to set up a Go Fund Me or Kickstarter Page? As easy as starting a Facebook group, I know got dozens of them.
    But here is something more in line with a longer term ocean commuting system. The hour and a half choppy ride on that little boat isn’t a trip you’ll want to make 5 days a week to and from. Dramamine on tap?

  3. snorkle
    snorkle says:

    I wonder if the Superferry will honk the horn before pulling up to the dock at Pohoiki like the fishing boats do?

  4. James
    James says:

    “But one of the things I’ve always loved about this place is its huge reserve of creativity; there’s more imagination abroad in little Pahoa than in the entirety of Kansas City or St. Louis.”

    We also have to acknowledge the ratchet side of Pahoa: This woman was walking around in her pajamas, but brushing her teeth too!

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