Members of the House Finance Committee, led by Chair Kyle T. Yamashita of Maui, and Hawaiʻi Island Representatives Greggor Ilagan and Kirstin Kahaloa toured various sites on Hawaiʻi Island to view firsthand several projects and programs supported by the Legislature.
During the visit, held Oct. 18-20, committee members met with stakeholders to learn about community needs and identify key priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Visits included stops at the county Civil Defense facility, Kona Community Hospital, the North Kona Volunteer Fire Station and Pohoiki Bay.
County of Hawaiʻi Civil Defense with Mayor Mitch Roth
House members organized a visit to the County of Hawaiʻi Civil Defense office. During this visit, legislators received a comprehensive briefing from Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth and county officials regarding their emergency response efforts.
On Aug. 8, 2023, as wildfires raged in Lahaina, Maui, the Big Island was simultaneously fighting seven separate wildfires in Kohala. With a High Wind Warning in effect, county officials said they recognized the imperative need for a unified, vigilant approach to monitoring the unfolding situation across the state.
“The primary aim of this site visit was to gain insight into how Hawaiʻi County effectively coordinated its response efforts on Aug. 8. Thanks to the collaboration between multiple departments, the County successfully managed to contain the fires, with no reports of residential damage or fatalities. This level of coordination is vital, and we extend our gratitude to Mayor Roth and his team for sitting down with us and sharing their experience and processes,” said Rep. Ilagan.
North Kona Volunteer Fire Station
Located at the bottom of Kaiminani Drive, 7 Bravo Kalaoa Station consists of a dozen volunteer members dedicated to fire response within the North Kona community. They are one of eight volunteer companies within West Hawaiʻi that complement the operations of the Hawaiʻi Fire Department.
Comprised of retired fire personnel, volunteers, and local heroes, 7 Bravo is unwavering in its mission to safeguard its community and provide vital support in responding to fire incidents in the area.
Given the current heightened concern about wildfire response and mitigation across the state, members of the House Finance Committee had the opportunity to learn more about 7 Bravo’s volunteer operations and their emergency response initiatives, which are made possible due to the donations of fire trucks and equipment from benefactors and other county fire departments.
“Being the largest landmass in the state, Hawaiʻi Island is currently the only island that has volunteer firefighters. We are grateful for the united efforts between the various volunteer stations along with the Hawaiʻi Fire Department in safeguarding our community and addressing fire emergencies,” said Representative Kirstin Kahaloa who represents areas of the Kona District from Kailua to Hōnaunau.
Following the 2018 eruption of the Kīlauea volcano, the Pohoiki boat ramp in Puna found itself landlocked by a new black sand beach, unfortunately cutting off access to the ocean and fishing grounds for residents.
During the site visit to Isaac Hale Beach Park and Pohoiki Bay, members of the House Finance Committee conversed with officials who emphasized the urgency of reinstating ocean access for the community.
“The Pohoiki boat ramp is integral to our way of life, providing a space for fishing and sustaining our families,” said Rep. Greggor Ilagan who represents the rural Puna district. “The blockaded access remains detrimental to our district. However, we are optimistic that a dredging project to reopen the ramp and clear the volcanic debris will restore this place to its residents. We are actively engaging with involved agencies regarding these efforts.”
Kona Community Hospital
As a full-service acute care facility with 94 beds and 24-hour emergency services, Kona Community Hospital has been dedicated to serving West Hawaiʻi and its residents for over a century. In recent years, concerns have arisen regarding the necessity of expansion of services in response to the community’s growth.
Throughout the 2023 legislative session, hospital leaders advocated for funding for projects to address a variety of improvements including improving the cooling and ventilation systems, enhancing campus security, and addressing wastewater treatment concerns.
In the FY23-24 budget, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature appropriated $21.7 million to support the growing community hospital’s needs. Of this, $16.25 million was earmarked for infrastructure upgrades, construction, and equipment, aimed at reducing the risk of closure. An additional $2.5 million was allocated for the design, construction, and equipment for the replacement of the oncology facility, and the remaining $2.98 million was designated for the hospital’s pharmacy expansion plan.
Members of the House Finance Committee had the opportunity to meet with hospital officials to receive a comprehensive progress report on ongoing projects and gain a deeper understanding of the medical needs of the Kona community.
During the interim, the House Committee on Finance will continue to conduct site visits across the state to gain insight into the status of ongoing projects and other needs of neighbor island communities.