(BIVN) – Costs associated with the Hawaiʻi County response to the situation on Mauna Kea continue to rise, although at a much slower pace than the previous month.
On Tuesday – “Day 51” since the scheduled start of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea – the council’s Finance Committee got an update from the finance department and police chief, and also heard public testimony on the divisive topic, during its meeting in Hilo.
The price tag for Hawaiʻi County alone is $3,650,255, as of September 3. That is an increase of $378,289 since the August 19 finance update.
“When the event first went off, the whole island went on to 12-hour shifts, no days off,” explained Police Chief Paul Ferreira. “Since everything has settled down, we pulled everybody back, put them back on eight-hour shifts, regular rotations. So we only have a small contingent that’s up on Mauna Kea.”
How long that “settled down” period will last is unknown. On Tuesday, the organizers of the Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu issued a “Maunakea Makaʻala Alert” saying “there has been word that the State of Hawaiʻi will employ the use of the National Guard troops and out of state law enforcement in the next thirty days to clear us off the Maunakea Access Road and Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu,” and asking other TMT opponents to maintain kapu aloha.
On the other side, State Senator Lorraine Inouye sent a letter to various public officials, taking aim at the “civil disobedience” of the TMT opponents, and asking “when are we going to get this destructive activity on Maunakea addressed”.
“You better believe that the legislature will be asked to help fund the expenses this is incurring for security personnel, etc.” Sen. Inouye wrote. “We’ve already allowed the Governor to use $10 million dollars from the General Fund. Are you ready to take more funds away from our constituents to help pay for this?”
The $10 million figure mentioned by Sen. Inouye was news to councilmember Matt Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder, who led the discussion on the costs during the council committee meeting.
“It’s the first time that I heard about any actual set amount of money being set aside for what’s happening on Mauna Kea,” Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder said.
The County administration expects to be reimbursed by the state for the ongoing expenses related to the situation on Mauna Kea. However, a written agreement has not yet been finalized. Nor has the county been reimbursed for any of the expenses yet, Finance Director Deanna Sako said.
A letter from Governor David Ige to the County Council stated that “the State will abide by this agreement to support HCPD’s enforcement efforts so long as HCPD remains committed to maintaining control of the pertinent roadways.”
“Is the lack of police enforcement going to cost us the state reimbursement?” asked one testifier from Waimea. “I think everybody seems to forget why the police need to be there: for Public Safety within the community because of the large gathering of the protesters.”
“Taxpayers have already paid several million dollars for TMT, State and UH lawyers to defend the disingenuous legal process,” said Nelson Ho, a longtime critic of the management of Mauna Kea, “and now the Governor is attempting to blackmail Hawaii County into being complicit with massive police action to eliminate public opposition to the telescope and the way TMT relied on the manipulated process to get its state approvals.”
“I believe what is happening on Mauna Kea right now is not in harmony with this county’s needs,” Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder said. “It really isn’t. We’re spending a lot of money. We are creating a huge amount of divisiveness among our community. We are putting our officers and our families and our children, and pulling in different directions. And it just really isn’t doing our county any good.”