Hawaii Governor Recommits To TMT; Protest Costs Now At Least $12M

Feb 19, 2020

Updated: 2/20/20, 6:30 a.m.

Gov. David Ige returned from a Japan trip this week after reaffirming Hawaii's commitment to the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Mauna Kea.

The governor told reporters Wednesday that he reassured the head of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology that Hawaii is committed to the rule of law and ensuring peaceful and safe access to the project site.

"I really wanted to assure them of the efforts that weʻre making to resolve the differences on the project. Talked about hoʻoponopono sessions that are being engaged in and the reconciliation commission I will be forming to talk about the broader issues of reconciliation with the Native Hawaiian people," Ige said.

In another development, state lawmakers have approved cuts in law enforcement operations to deal with events such as the demonstrations that blocked access to the telescope.

House legislators approved a rough draft of a new state operating budget this week that cut more than $65 million in law enforcement funding requested by Democratic Gov. David Ige, House Finance Committee Chairwoman Rep. Sylvia Luke said.

The Hawaii attorney general's office on Wednesday released the latest reported costs from state and county agencies for law enforcement activites on Mauna Kea related to the TMT protests.

The $12 million accumuated total includes about $600,000 in costs from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, but the agency reported separately that its Mauna Kea law enforcememt expenses totaled $1.6 million as of Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Harry Kim told HPR he wants to delay construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope for another two months, and maybe even longer.

Kim says the extra time could allow TMT officials to reach an agreement with opponents of the project.

"I really would like to have a longer extension because I would like to use this extension period of quiet and non-confrontational element to see what we can do to move forward," he told HPR on Tuesday.

Anti-TMT forces calling themselves kiaʻi or protectors of the mountain believe Mauna Kea is sacred and the construction would be a desecration.

The protesters occupied the road leading up to the summit delaying the construction for several months.

Mayor Kim negotiated a temporary truce back in December that re-opened the road and put the telescope construction on hold.

But the truce is set to expire in less than two weeks and Kim says more time is needed to find common ground.

TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa confirmed that Mayor Kim reached out to TMT on an extension. However, he said TMT has no timeframe to begin construction on Mauna Kea.

Kim says he expects a response from TMT officials on the proposed extension later this week.

Meanwhile, the University of Hawaii's new administrative rules governing Mauna Kea could take up to a year before they are fully implemented, officials said.

The governor approved the rules in January. But it is likely to be six to 12 months before they are put into effect on the state's highest mountain, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

The rules codify what activities are permitted on the Big Island lands managed by the university, but a framework for action has not yet been finalized, officials said.

“Full implementation will take a number of steps,” said Greg Chun, board member of the Office of Maunakea Management.

The rules prohibit littering, speeding, noise disturbances, fires, drugs, alcohol, drones, and camping. They are also intended to regulate commercial activities, tours and motorized traffic, including off-road driving.

Demonstrators blocked access to Mauna Kea's summit to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope from July through December. Demonstrators said the project could damage land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.

The parts of the new rules empowering Mauna Kea rangers to issue citations to violators are already in effect, Chun said.

Rangers are able to issue administrative citations to offenders, request that offenders leave the mountain, impose administrative fines, and call law enforcement if other measures fail.

The administration is still trying to determine a structure for managing citations, Chun said.

Rangers will issue warnings to violators before moving to citations or fines, university spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said.

“The rules are there to protect the resources up there,” Meisenzahl said. “We’re not trying to criminalize anyone, and we’re not trying to get rich off of these fines or anything.”