HILO — State Sen. Kai Kahele said Thursday afternoon he would ask Gov. David Ige “within the hour for a moratorium on the construction of (Thirty Meter Telescope) for the next 60 days.”
“It’s time for a cooling off period,” Kahele, who’s in Montana for the Council of State Governments-West Legislative Conference, told the Tribune-Herald. “I think it’s time to de-escalate this situation. I think it’s time for ho‘oponopono (mediation and conciliation). I think it’s time to have meaningful conversations for the future of Maunakea. And I think it’s time for people cool off, both sides, before things get out of control.
“Right now, we’re seeing an escalation of the situation, and that is not good for anyone. And it’s not just on Maunakea. It’s throughout the state of Hawaii. It’s not in the best interest of our people. It’s not in the best interest of law enforcement. And the state of Hawaii is clearly not prepared for what’s happening on Maunakea right now.”
Kahele, who represents Hilo and is running for the Hawaii congressional seat currently held by Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, said he “would not have declared a state of emergency” as Ige did Wednesday in response to protesters blocking Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road.
“I don’t think it warrants a state of emergency,” he said. “I think it warrants … an opportunity for us to have meaningful conversation about how we move forward.
“Declaring a state of emergency only escalates the situation. If you bring in the National Guard, I’m in the National Guard. These are my brothers and sisters who I stand side by side in uniform with. They’re not prepared for this. They haven’t gone through the training that local law enforcement has gone through. They’re your friends and your neighbors, just like our police officers are, many of whom were emotionally affected (Wednesday) because they were just doing their job.”
Kahele opposes the $1.4 billion telescope project “as it is currently proposed.”
“I have a series of issues with the project, but the first and probably the foremost is its location,” he said. “You know, there’s been enough development on the summit of Maunakea, and there’s absolutely no reason to bulldoze and excavate an area of Maunakea that has never been disrupted and disturbed in the history of our planet. Once you do that, you will never be able to restore that to its original condition.”
He said he would prefer to see the telescope built “on an existing telescope site that has been properly decommissioned or refurbished.”
“We already have 13 examples of existing development on the summit of Maunakea. … It is a conservation district. It is supposed to be treated with the utmost care by the state of Hawaii. And to permanently damage and alter existing landscape where they’re proposing to build TMT, I disagree with.”
After a decade in the courts and previous demonstrations on Maunakea in 2015 that saw the arrests of dozens of protesters — who call themselves kia‘i or, “protectors,” of the mountain — the state Supreme Court last October by a 4-1 vote affirmed the Conservation Use District Permit for the project issued by the Board of Land and Natural Resources on Sept. 27, 2017.
Kahele made a series of posts on Facebook Thursday, including pointing out the permit is good for two years from issuance, so construction has to start by Sept. 26.
The University of Hawaii manages the 11,000-acre Maunakea Science Preserve, where the observatories are located. UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl confirmed Kahele’s timeline, but said whether the permit would be valid beyond that date could be “left for interpretation.”
“Usually, when a CDUP gets issued, it’s not with a court case hanging over its head,” Meisenzahl noted, adding that it’s the goal that TMT start construction by Sept. 26.
“The other thing to note is that TMT could have started construction before the state Supreme Court ruled, but they opted to wait for the ruling. TMT decided to wait in the interest of full transparency for the state Supreme Court to rule on the case,” he said.
In addition, Kahele posted, “I can guarantee (former Hawaii County Mayor) Billy Kenoi would NEVER have arrested Aunty Pua Kanahele &Uncle Jimmy Naniole,” an apparent jab at Ige, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim or both.
The individuals Kahele referred to are kupuna (elders), the former a revered kumu hula, the latter, a retired teacher and basketball coach. They were among 34 people — 33 kupuna and one caregiver — cited Wednesday for obstruction of government operations, a misdemeanor, for blocking Maunakea Access Road.
Kahele didn’t directly address, when asked, if that post was a veiled reference to either or both chief executives.
“It should’ve never gotten to this situation, and that’s what I’m so disturbed about,” Kahele said. “It’s deeply disturbing to me, as someone who knows most of those individuals and many of the others (and) look up to them, as I would look up to my own father as revered leaders in our community who have given so much to our community and our culture, and to see them treated the way they were treated (Wednesday). Granted, they were treated in a very respectful manner — I was not there, but that’s what I observed — but still, that’s not we treat Hawaii’s living treasures.”
Kahele said this issue is “going to tear this community and these islands apart if we don’t pivot in another direction.”
“And that’s what I’m going to be asking for,” he said. “Ultimately, there’s one man in Hawaii that can make that decision, and it’s Gov. Ige. Not Harry Kim or Kai Kahele. It’s Gov. Ige.
“I think it’s time for cooler heads to prevail, and I think it’s time to use the words the kia‘is have been using, to move forward in Kapu Aloha. We just need to sit down and ask ourselves, ‘Is this the best that Hawaii represents?’ I don’t think it is.”
The Tribune-Herald attempted to contact the governor’s office late Thursday afternoon but received no reply by deadline.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.