Total cost of TMT standoff to county: $3.2M

HILO — Hawaii County has incurred $3.2 million so far in expenses related to ongoing standoff at Maunakea Access Road.

At a Tuesday meeting of the Hawaii County Council Finance Committee in Kona, County Finance Director Deanna Sako revealed that county costs relating to the Thirty Meter Telescope project and protests have exceeded $3 million, with labor costs between July 15 and 31 accounting for the vast majority of that number.

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Committee members were shocked by the sum, with councilwoman Sue Lee Loy calling it “eye-popping.” Labor costs from between July 1 and 15 were previously revealed to only be about $258,000.

Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira said law enforcement incurred a significant amount of overtime during the peak of the protest activity at Maunakea. Police transitioned to 12-hour shifts islandwide on July 17, when dozens of protesters were arrested at the access road, and only reverted to 8-hour shifts on July 28.

While Ferreira said he did not want to reveal the exact number of law enforcement officers currently at the protest site for operational safety reasons, he confirmed there were “in excess of 20” officers at the access road Tuesday afternoon. Most of their work, Ferreira said, is enforcing traffic.

During the first week of the protest, at the peak of law enforcement activity, officers from Maui and Oahu were also present, at cost to their respective counties. Maui County incurred about $100,000 to deploy officers to the mountain, while Honolulu County incurred about $162,000.

Sako said the County Finance Department is currently in the process of billing the state for its expenses, which the state has previously agreed to pay. However, she said she does not know the exact state account from which such reimbursements will be made.

Puna councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, who had requested the report, urged Sako to expedite the reimbursement process, as he felt that the $3.2 million is best spent on the island itself, not on the TMT project.

Puna councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz requested a more detailed breakdown of the report, but Sako said one was not immediately available.

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Because Sako confirmed that the price tag for the project will continue to increase with time — the $3.2 million does not include any overtime incurred after July 31, for example — discussion of the report was once again postponed to the next Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 3 in Hilo. Unlike Tuesday’s meeting, however, the public will be able to testify at that meeting.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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