Volcano Watch — Volcanoes exempt from capital gains

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Here's a riddle for you—which large land holder on the Big Island condemns property at will, holds liens on large parts of the island, and doesn't pay a cent of taxes?

Kīlauea Volcano has seized a lot of real estate in the last 18 years, but, unlike the rest of us, won't be struggling with tax forms this weekend.

To date, the eruption that began in 1983 has covered about 102 sq km (40 sq miles) of preexisting land. Forty percent of that land is inside Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. Another 35 percent belongs to the State, including large parcels of forest reserve and natural area reserve. Only 25 percent of the property covered by this eruption is privately held, though it included hundreds of house lots.

Most of the private property is near Kīlauea's southern coastline, where the eruption has added about 206 hectares (510 acres) of new land to the island. The biggest chunk of this lies outboard of the sites of Harry K. Brown Park and Kaimu black sand beach, where a plain of pahoehoe extended the coastline seaward by as much as 0.6 km (0.4 mi). The new land belongs to the State, under the terms of a 1977 Hawaii Supreme Court decision in the case of the State of Hawaii vs. Zimring. The disputed land in this case was 7.9 acres formed by the 1955 eruption of Kīlauea, which sent a lava flow into the ocean at Kehena.

The largest remaining kipuka within the flow field contains the remains of Royal Gardens subdivision, which is located on the steep slope of Pulama pali. Royal Gardens was the scene of the first house to be claimed by lavaduring this eruption, back in early 1983. It is also the scene of the latest destruction--four long-abandoned houses were overrun in the last year.

If ever property were subject to a lien by the volcano, it's Royal Gardens. The subdivision has the dubious distinction of being the only inhabited area to be impacted by all three of the main epochs of this eruption. From 1983 through 1985, lava flows from the central vent at Pu`u `O`o overran the upper slopes of the subdivision. The eruption shifted 3 km (1.9 mi) northeast to the Kupaianaha vent in 1986, and for the next five years, flows whittled away at the eastern side of the subdivision and wrapped around its lower end. In early 1992, Kupaianaha died, and the eruption returned to flank vents on the southwest slope of the Pu`u `O`o cone. Since then, flows approaching from the west have encroached on the lower end of the subdivision, merging with the Kupaianaha flows on the coastal plain. This activity is continuing today.

Most of the land claimed by the volcano during this eruption has been buried and reburied many times over in the last 18 years, some of it to a depth of 25 m (80 ft) or more. Currently, surface flows are pushing eastward on the coastal plain, repaving ground that was first buried in 1989-91 by pahoehoe from Kupaianaha.

Lava hasn't entered the ocean since January of this year, but the broad surface flows are gradually making their way toward the ocean near the eastern boundary of the National Park. As of April 12, active lava was within 400 m (1300 ft) of the shoreline, but judging from its behavior in the last two months, it's in no hurry to get there.

Volcano Activity Update

No earthquakes were reported felt during the week ending on April 12, 2001.