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Hawaii News

Officials hope to create safe lava viewing area

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Fissure 8 continued to pump out lava and steam near Nohea Street in Leilani Estates on Wednesday.

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A mailbox was the only sign Wednesday that the devastated area near fissure 8 at Nohea Street in Leilani Estates was once a neighborhood.

Hawaii County officials continue to look for a safe way for the public to see firsthand the 2,000-degree river of lava racing 8 miles to the sea — a lava “viewing platform” that Gov. David Ige hopes would boost Hawaii island tourism.

“That would help us to kick-start and revive the reasons for going to that Pahoa side of the island,” Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in his office Wednesday.

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials continue to figure out how to build something that’s never been created before, including parking for an unknown number of visitors.

“The details are still under discussion,” Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder told the Star-Advertiser in an email.

She quoted Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno telling staff at a meeting Wednesday morning: “We want to get this right the first time.”

Ige had no cost estimates, but hopes it can be built quickly. It does not have to be permanent, he said.

But, Ige said, “It would have to be safe.”

He envisions a “viewing platform” that would get visitors high enough to see the lava flowing inside a volcanic culvert that’s been created in the lava’s wake — while, hopefully, complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We know the eruption could stop tomorrow,” Ige said. “So we’re not going to be doing something that would cost a lot of money or take a lot of time.”

Hawaii tourism officials and businesses could use a reason for tourists to return to lower Puna following the May 3 volcanic eruption that saw a slowdown in the local economy as visitors departed.

At the same time, ongoing earthquakes and explosions at the summit of Kilauea Volcano forced the closure of the island’s most popular tourist attraction — Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park — and left it covered in ash.

The lava-viewing area would give U.S. Geological Survey staff and experts from their Hawaiian Volcano Observatory the chance to share their volcano expertise with visitors.

At the same time, Ige hopes it would prevent more people from sneaking into off-limits areas to witness the eruption — only to get arrested.

“People are trying to find their own viewing locations and circumvent the roadblocks, which we don’t think is very helpful,” Ige said.

Asked how many visitors the viewing area should accommodate, Ige said, “There is a lot of interest.”

Eric Takahata, managing director Hawaii Tourism Japan, said, “The lava slowdown is the biggest concern. It’s the 900-pound gorilla in the room … The No. 1 attraction is the volcano — what’s hurting us is that Hawai‘i National Volcanoes Park is closed. That’s making it tough. The feeling is: ‘Why go if they can’t see the volcano?’ A lot are waiting to go when they can see it.”

So Takahata joins others in the tourism industry hoping that a lava-viewing area will materialize out of the cooling lava fields soon — and give tourists a reason to return to lower Puna.

“If we can get an alternate viewing point established, they will come again,” Takahata said.

Star-Advertiser staff writer Allison Schaefers contributed to this report.

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