The issue of what comes next for the beleaguered residents of Leilani Estates continues to divide a community worried about the possibility of busloads of tourists pouring in to gawk at Kilauea volcano’s most productive and famous outlet — fissure 8.
The 60-foot-tall lava cone represents the new end of the road for Leilani Avenue. Property on either side of the county-owned road belongs to either private owners or the Leilani Community Association.
There is no public parking or public restrooms and hardly room to turn around a busload of tourists where the avenue runs into the lava field, 12 blocks from Highway 130.
The Kilauea eruption that began May 3 opened 24 fissures and over two months covered more than 6,000 acres of land in Lower Puna with lava, destroying more than
700 homes in the Leilani Estates and Kapoho areas, and burying or isolating more than 1,600 acres of farms. Hawaii County officials have estimated the price tag for the recovery at upwards of $800 million.
Once-molten lava is still giving off heat at fissure 8 — which sprawls across 20 to 30 properties — and at the even bigger lava field, and the terrain is unforgiving, said Jay Turkovsky, president of the Leilani Community Association.
Even though he has seen photos of people standing on top of fissure 8, Turkovsky said no one should be allowed on either the fissure or the lava field.
“Walking out there is dangerous,” he said. “I know two people who fell through. They got scratched up and donated a little blood to Pele.”
Three weeks ago, a contractor had to postpone road reconstruction because the air was so thick with steam after heavy rain met the still-hot lava field, Turkovsky said.
The Leilani Community Association’s insurer already has required the association to pay $24,000 to install metal guardrails and warning signs around the massive lava field. They are expected to go up in the next few weeks, Turkovsky said.
“It’s for our own liability protection,” he said. “We know that lots of people want to come here because it’s currently happening — but not on a mass scale yet.”
The homeowners association is fighting to persuade Mayor Harry Kim to maintain a checkpoint at the intersection of Highway 130 and Leilani Avenue, even though that security measure has not been able to keep out visitors.
Even if the association comes up with some new way to regulate who comes into their community, Turkovsky said he knows that tourists could arrive in large numbers down Leilani
“While we’re technically in charge,” Turkovsky said of the homeowners association, “we are not in control.”
The subdivision is zoned for agricultural use and the county previously shut down a steel-
fabrication business run out of a private home. So it would be unlikely that the county would allow private residents or the community association to operate a tour business to control access to fissure 8, Turkovsky said.
Nevertheless, one resident is already picking up cruise ship passengers in a van and driving them through the county-run checkpoint to see fissure 8, Turkovsky said. And many others are escorting friends and family.
But some kind of arrangement might be made to restrict access just to Leilani Avenue while keeping tourists off of private property, he said.
“If we were to limit access, then we can control the masses,” Turkovsky said. “We could require a donation at the gate and permit some tour companies to come in. The tour companies would be running the business and would have all of the liability. If they deviate from Leilani Avenue, then they’re on Leilani Estate property — or the property of individual property owners —
and would be trespassing.”
But Turkovsky’s idea about what to do about tourists is hardly universal.
The issue, resident Pete Wilson said, “is dividing us.”
“The only thing driving this is the fact that we have an attractive nuisance in our back yard,” Wilson said. “Lookie-loos, tourists, whoever want to be on the lava.”
On one end, Wilson said, some residents want to “let ’em in and have sacred respect for the land. There’s the mindset that tourists have every right to go where they want. There are other people who think there will be a problem with tourists.”
Asked whether it’s possible to keep non-
residents out, Wilson said, “I think it’s inevitable that people will be sneaking in, and it’s inevitable that one way or another people will be getting onto that lava field.”
Before Kilauea began erupting on May 3, Mayor Kim said Leilani Estates was “a very beautiful subdivision, private in nature, except for the one major road going in. It was very nice and peaceful.”
The Leilani Community Association included 2,046 properties and about one-third were developed, Turkovsky said.
Some 708 properties are now buried under thousands of tons of lava, including 253 that had either been developed or had building
permits, Turkovsky said.
He estimates that 500 dwellings remain standing.
Petra Wiesenbauer’s 2-acre home at Kahukai and Makamae streets isn’t one of them.
It’s now buried under about 60 feet of lava, Wiesenbauer said.
Before Kilauea erupted, Wiesenbauer used her home as a bed-and-breakfast and she
appreciated the benefits that tourists brought to lower Puna.
Her feelings are different now.
Even if it’s mandated that visitors must stay off of the lava field and private property,
Wiesenbauer said it’s inevitable that people will trespass.
“We have no parking,” she said. “We have no facilities. We have nothing. Just to open the floodgates, I’m not in favor of that all.
“To me it feels like a violation,” she said. “Once everybody has
access to Leilani Estates, there will be an avalanche of people coming through. For the people who live there and for the people who have lost their homes, this is not something you want sightseers to parade by.”