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.)