Work began Monday on chipping through the roughly 10-foot-thick layer of lava 500 feet long that overran Cemetery Road last October in Pahoa, Hawaii island.
“We’re paving a path through the lava,” said Barett Otani, information and education specialist for Hawaii County.
Once the work is complete, motorists will be able to drive through walls of hardened lava ranging from 8 to 15 feet thick and get a feel for what threatened the area.
Molten rock from what is known as the June 27 Kilauea lava flow crossed Cemetery Road from Apaa Street near the Pahoa Transfer Station at 3:50 a.m. Oct. 25.
The flow spared major roadways and the town of Pahoa. But lava covered some graves in Pahoa Cemetery, while going around others, and destroyed one house.
The $150,000 project will be funded 75 percent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and 25 percent by the county. It is expected to take 40 workdays, weather and construction conditions permitting, the county said in a news release.
The reconstruction work involves having excavators break up the hardened lava, bringing the site back to original grades, and hauling about 3,500 cubic yards of rock to a private quarry, the county said.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said the restoration of Cemetery Road, which connects to Apaa Street, provides a more convenient and direct route for Kaohe Homestead subdivision residents to get to the Pahoa Transfer Station and to Longs Drugs and Pahoa Marketplace.
The Department of Public Works determined it was in the best interest of public safety to restore the functionality of Cemetery Road after assessing how residents get in and out of the subdivision.
Otani said it provides an alternate route in case of emergencies.
“Talking to some of the residents, this is something they’ve looked forward to,” Oliveira said.
When it’s done, “you can see and drive through the lava,” he said.
Unlike a mudslide, the lava hardens and remains in place, Otani said.
The area where the lava crossed Cemetery Road is just 50 yards away from the transfer station, where many came to view the fresh flow last year, he said.
However, Pahoa Cemetery, which is set back about 100 yards from the roadway, must be accessed through two private properties because the driveway to the cemetery was covered by lava, Oliveira said.