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Schatz visits HVNP, discusses funding

Long-deferred maintenance projects are finally underway at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park after an infusion of millions of dollars in federal funds.

Through the Great American Outdoors Act, HVNP will receive more than $45 million in federal allocations for various improvement projects between the 2023 and 2025 fiscal years.

Of those funds, a 2024 appropriation of $33.6 million would be used to rehabilitate the park’s aging water catchment system, which is the park’s primary source of potable water. Park superintendent Rhonda Loh said the project is the park’s largest critical deferred maintenance project, and will require significant overhauls.

“Some of our rain sheds were built in the 1920s, so they’re a bit overdue,” Loh said.

The rehabilitation work will include replacing the old buildings’ roofs, siding and gutters while upgrading water lines, filtration systems, fencing, storage tanks and more.

The remaining $12.5 million will be for a fiscal year 2025 project to rehabilitate portions of the Mauna Loa Lookout Road.

These projects are in addition to $30 million allocated in 2023 to repair ungulate fences at three Hawaii national parks, including HVNP, Haleakala National Park and Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Of those three, HVNP needs the lion’s share of the work: 64 miles of fences will be restored in total, 40 of which will be at HVNP, said Sierra McDaniel, natural resources program manager at HVNP.

Loh said fence repair work is already underway at HVNP.

“HVNP is one of Hawaii’s crown jewels,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who toured the park with Loh on Thursday. “They’re doing incredible work up here. And what they really need is money.”

While touring the park, Loh showed Schatz the devastation wrought by the 2018 eruption and summit collapse at Kilauea, including the former Jaggar Museum — currently under demolition — and a stretch of Crater Rim Drive closed to the public for safety reasons.

“One of HVNP’s challenges is the dynamism of the park,” Schatz said. “Pele makes her own decisions.”

At one point on the tour, a stretch of forest on Mauna Loa’s flank caught Schatz’s attention — in particular, a sharp delineation between forest and pasture, which Loh said demonstrates the impact a simple, well-built ungulate fence can have on the local ecology.

Schatz said he will work to ensure HVNP receives whatever funding it needs, but he added that parks funding tends to be an easier sell among his Washington, D.C., colleagues.

“We argue about a lot of things up there, but parks funding is something we usually all agree on,” Schatz said. “At least I can look my colleagues in the eye and tell them that not a single dollar we spend here is wasted.”