Council committee to get Maunakea update

  • Kealoha Pisciotta (Mauna Kea Anaina Hou), a Maunakea “protector,” speaks at the BLNR press conference held June 28 at the Kalanimoku Building. (Courtesy photo/Dennis Oda)

HILO — Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder wants to know what’s going on atop Maunakea.

Specifically, he’s asking for an update at a Monday council committee meeting on the “extent of involvement” in activity on the mountain by the Hawaii Police Department, corporation counsel and county administration.

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Kanealii-Kleinfelder’s request for a public update comes just weeks after the state issued a notice to proceed on the construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope on property managed by the University of Hawaii at Hilo, capping years of court actions, arrests and emotional protests over more telescope construction on a mountain some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

“We’re just looking to get some clear answers from the administration,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said.

County involvement is limited to police and possibly some equipment from the county Civil Defense Agency, Mayor Harry Kim said Friday. His administration hadn’t created a written report, he said, but will answer questions asked by council members.

Kanealii-Kleinfelder said he’s been hearing from a lot of constituents questioning the county’s involvement in what is essentially a state project. He said his major concerns deal with safety of county personnel and the public, as well as the cost to local taxpayers for county employees policing the mountain or providing other services.

Construction is expected to start sometime this summer and take 10 years.

Kim said the county’s role is very limited.

“All we know is police have been requested by the state for assistance and police have been in a planning mode in relation to this request,” Kim said.

The state has committed to paying the county costs of policing the mountain, Kim said.

“We have no change in the schedule. The police, similar to (at) other events, are preparing for activities that may occur on the mountain,” HPD Maj. Robert Wagner said in an email response to questions about police patrols currently working shifts there. “Should it be necessary to inform the public due to public safety concerns, we will then send out a media release.”

TMT activities in 2014 and 2015 drew a heated response from opponents, who built two ahu and two unpermitted hales to reinforce their presence on the mountain. Some protesters, who prefer to be called “protectors,” blocked construction crews’ access to the site and some strewed the access roads with rocks and stones to keep vehicles from ascending.

State Department of Land and Natural Resources officers dismantled the ahu and hales June 21, just before Gov. David Ige announced the notice to proceed.

Kealoha Pisciotta, of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, one of the leaders opposing the telescope and pushing for preservation of the mountain, said she plans to attend the council meeting.

“I have a lot of concerns because the mayor claims he somehow has an agreement with the governor to somehow send all the police officers up to the mountain when it’s clearly not county jurisdiction,” Pisciotta said. “And I hope the county has really looked at the police officers about those who might be conscientious objectors. … All people have a right to not participate in the demise of their culture or their religious beliefs.”

Kim said the county administration remains focused on safety of the workers, the police and the opponents who may stage protests.

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“I don’t think you’ll find anyone who disagrees with the right to protest,” Kim said. “But we want to minimize any confrontation. Everyone wishes this will not happen and hopefully we’ll all be successful in resolving this in a good way.”

The council Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday in Hilo council chambers. The public can also watch the update and testify by videoconference from the West Hawaii Civic Center, Waimea and Pahoa council offices, old Kohala courthouse and the Naalehu state office building.

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