Interior Secretary David Bernhardt inspects earthquake damage at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on Thursday inspected some of the damage that was caused by earthquakes at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park during last year’s Kilauea Volcano eruption, and said there are steps the federal government can take to expedite repairs.
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KAU, Hawaii >> U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on Thursday inspected some of the damage that was caused by earthquakes at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park during last year’s Kilauea volcano eruption, and said there are steps the federal government can take to expedite repairs.
Severe ground shaking caused by the eruption closed the main area of the park for 134 days last year, and key attractions at the park such as the Jaggar Museum and the Thurston Lava Tube remain closed today more than nine months after the end of the eruption in August. Much of the rest of the Kilauea section of the park reopened Sept. 22.
Bernhardt on Thursday toured the Jaggar Museum and the damaged U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory facility at the national park, and said federal officials are “looking at our facilities and asking ourselves what potentially do we need to do, or what alternatives do we need to make, and those decisions are still a ways down the road.”
The observatory staff has temporarily relocated to Hilo, but the U.S. Senate has approved a disaster relief package that includes $49 million for a replacement facility for the observatory. That disaster relief package also includes $20.1 million to help HVO operate in a temporary space, including money for short-term office rent and equipment replacement.
That bill is expected to come up for a vote in the U.S. House as early as next week. “I never make a prediction on that until it is presented to the president, but I do think the senators have been very responsive,” Bernhardt said. “I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Bernhardt said the department is “months away” from making a firm decision about how to proceed with a permanent facility for the observatory.
As for expediting repairs or construction of replacement facilities, “I do think we have some ways to cut through some of the red tape,” he said. “I mean, everything takes time when you’re dealing with the government, in all fairness, because we do have certain protocols we have to go through, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think this was going to be a priority and that we were going to move forward as expeditiously as humanly possible.”
Some federal highways funding and other money is already in place that can be used for planning to deal with subsidence that has damaged roads, he said.
After visiting the damaged and closed Jaggar Museum next to the Kilauea caldera, “when you stand there at the caldera, my initial reaction, honestly, was there needs to be something there,” Bernhardt said.
“At the same time, there is movement on that ground — I mean that’s clearly obvious, it’s still moving, potentially — and so we need to think that through because obviously safety is … first, but I think that that site is an incredible site, and we need to be very thoughtful about what we do there,” he said.
The park is a major economic driver on Hawaii island, and more than 2 million people visited the park in 2017. That number plummeted to 1.1 million people in 2018, but parks officials calculate that even the reduced visitor traffic generated more than $94 million in spending in communities around the park and supported more than 1,000 jobs in the area.