Tutu Pele has been teaching us all about impermanence, and reminding us how this amazing island we live on was created. Like everyone reading this, I am praying no lives are lost and that we come together to help those who may lose everything. That is aloha.

There is an issue that I feel is imperative to call out right now, as it has never been so important for people to be able to leave — quickly.

Currently, there are eruptions and fumes and attention on Pahoa, Puna and the people that live in two lava zones. When the cameras and reporters leave, those of us that remain and live here still have a road that is unpaved, unpredictable and a health hazard. Access was an issue after Iselle in 2014, and it continues today.

We are all being directed to plan and use Kahakai Boulevard to evacuate, but no one is talking about the unpaved sections of Government Beach Road — and that is the only exit for many of us. When we get past this emergency situation, Government Beach Road must be completely paved.

A gravel section of Government Beach Road in Puna, March 2018.

Courtesy Francesca Ripple

We have had five months of rain and horrendous potted driving conditions all winter, and now a volcanic event that really illustrates this basic inequity — this is a health and safety concern for many citizens and residents of Lower Pahoa, especially those living on or off Government Beach Road.

In a medical emergency — a stroke, heart attack, complicated birth, asthma attack or a severe farming or work injury — a drive to the medical center in Pahoa or Hilo can vary from 25 or 30 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on the conditions of the road. The gravel sections of Red Road can be altered in a few hours by torrential rain and are very unpredictable.

Serious Health Issue

I’ve heard about historical actions of people passionate about preserving this quaint area of the Big Island — the magnificent mango trees and the jungle canopy — however, the majority of Government Beach Road is currently paved with all the mangos and jungle canopy thriving and beautiful. These “cons” against paving the road do not hold water any longer (no pun intended).

For those who do not know much about the community of Pahoa, this is an inequity that has never been made more evident. The elephant in the room is that Pahoa is poor. The residents and citizens have a “soft” voice.

In the Hawaiian tourist economy Puna is not where the wealthy settle or go on vacation, it is off-the-beaten track. However, these unpaved sections of gravel are more than just an inconvenience or hardship causing car repairs and inconvenience, it is a serious health issue. And right now, if the lava begins to flow, people’s safety is at risk.

The elephant in the room is that Pahoa is poor.

This is an issue of a great tax inequity for the residents of Pahao. We pay taxes, they go up, and we pay more, but we are getting very little in return. A basic human need is having a safe, maintained, public roads. This has not been met by our elected officials and has become a very obvious need for our health and humanity.

This is a matter of life and death. The sections of gravel need to be paved ASAP and discussions should happen in the next budgeting and planning sessions. The tax-paying residents of Pahoa and Red Road deserve no less.

I am sure there will be some long-time residents who will be against this for some reason, but I hope my intentions come through — I cannot be silent about this any longer. In response to critics please understand I love and care for every person here and my sole concern is for our safety and accessibility.

The inequity of the roads of Lower Puna could be a matter of life and death.

Preserving “Old Hawaii” and our “quaint” part of it is a mute point. The beauty of Government Beach Road is evident to anyone who has ever driven on this mostly paved road. This is a matter of public health and safety and very clearly illustrates one of the tax inequities the poor experience in their everyday life. No one is advocating for them for what is needed to live a better life.

I hope this letter is the beginning of change and that our elected officials step up and correct this health inequity as soon as possible. The ability to escape a lava flow quickly, or receive ambulance or care quickly in a time of emergency is a healthcare issue.

It’s pretty basic. We pay our taxes to maintain those roads, and it’s time to step up and do so. The only existing evacuation route for our citizens should be 100-percent paved, like the majority of Government Beach Road is.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author