Senator Russell Ruderman hosted a meeting with Governor Neil Abercrombie including about twenty-five Puna community leaders. This was the first time in several years that the Governor has visited Puna to specifically listen and address concerns of the district. The meeting was held at Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences school in Kea’au on Saturday, July 12th.
It was a productive meeting, with both the Governor’s staff and Puna leaders expressing great appreciation for the opportunity to meet directly with one another to address community concerns.
Governor Abercrombie intently listened as the issues of the Puna District, such as substandard subdivisions and the problems they are facing including roads and other necessary infrastructure; emergency access; geothermal; need for social & medical services; unsafe highways; safe access to medical marijuana; charter schools; and a variety of other concerns were presented by those in attendance. The governor acknowledged their concerns, asked questions, and agreed that Puna is in need of long-denied attention and resources.
One theme emerged repeatedly, as Senator Ruderman explained, “Puna is the state’s fastest-growing district, and includes some of the state’s poorest population areas, yet it has received less funding than other districts for several decades.”
One example of the problems this has caused is that Lower Puna has only one road for access and emergencies (Highway 130) and this overburdened highway is the most dangerous road in the state. As Community leader Jon Olson said “We’re dying out here, literally, on the unsafe state highway.”
The Governor stated, “This is the 21st Century, and we need to look at things anew.” The old assumptions about our subdivisions, roads, and what Puna residents deserve must be re-evaluated. The Governor agreed to focus more attention on our needs and will follow up with more communication.
Senator Ruderman coordinated this meeting to create a productive avenue of communication between the administration and the Puna community, which has been lacking in recent years. Senator Ruderman said “For this meeting, we put aside the most contentious issues and focused instead on all the other basic issues so desperately in need of attention in Puna. I am thankful for this renewed dialog between my community and the administration.”