HILO — State Sen. Lorraine Inouye fired off a letter to Gov. David Ige and others — her second in a two-week span — urging something be done to end the blockade of Maunakea Access Road by activists protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
“It’s been a couple of months now,” Inouye told the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday. “The TMT needs to be built, so are we reneging on all the permitting … that the state has allowed? … It’s no different than any other industry or company that needs to get permits to build their businesses.”
The Hawaii Supreme Court in November by a 4-1 vote ruled the project’s Conservation District Use Permit is valid, legally allowing a consortium to build the $1.4 billion next generation telescope on Maunakea.
In July, Ige announced construction would begin. Demonstrators, who call themselves kia‘i, or “protectors,” of Maunakea — which they consider sacred — mustered en masse July 15 at the base of Maunakea Access Road where it intersects Daniel K. Inouye Highway to stop trucks and construction vehicles from scaling the mountain.
County and state law enforcers arrested 38 individuals, mostly kupuna or elders, on July 17 and charged them with misdemeanor obstruction of the road. There have been tense moments since, including a state of emergency declared by Ige, since lifted. The permit required TMT construction to begin by Sept. 27, but Ige extended the deadline for the commencement of construction by two years.
“I take this personally,” Inouye wrote to the governor, Mayor Harry Kim, state Attorney General Clare Connors and a laundry list of elected and appointed government officials at the county, state and federal levels. “This is part of my district. Some may not think this impacts you, perhaps because you don’t live here. But it does impact you and the people who elected you.
“… Shame on all of us for allowing this to happen. We are complicit if we don’t do something.”
Inouye told the Tribune-Herald that those who continue to block the road should be arrested. In her letter, she chided officials who “condone ‘civil disobedience’” — stating it’s “so disappointing that some of you are disregarding your sworn oaths of office.”
“I’m also disappointed that (the) governor hasn’t used his court-sanctioned authority to resolve this, more so now that there’s clear legal ownership of the road to the top of Maunakea,” she wrote.
Krishna Jayaram, spokesman for Connors, said law enforcement “has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring the safety and security of all persons at Maunakea” and has held back on the use of force “to allow state and county leaders space to find a peaceful alternative to forcibly clearing the road.”
“Importantly, the last few weeks have allowed more voices to emerge, many of which previously had kept silent but now feel compelled to contribute their thoughts to this issue,” Jayaram said. “In any law enforcement engagement, de-escalation and dialogue are always preferred, if the possibility of success in achieving a peaceful resolution exists. We remain hopeful that efforts at finding a peaceful way forward will prove successful, but the present situation cannot be allowed to continue long-term.”
Pointing to a structure near Pu‘uhuluhulu that protesters built during the Labor Day weekend on Department of Hawaiian Homes Land property that state and county officials say is unpermitted, Inouye described the situation on the mountain as “rapidly deteriorating.”
“Look at what’s being constructed? They are calling it a learning center? Have you ever helped a group in your community establish a learning center in your district?” she said. “There are easily 30-40-50 difficult hoops to jump through to ensure the safety of everyone. But here they are building it spontaneously in the middle of nowhere on public land — possibly conservation land or a roadway easement. No plumbing or sanitation, no assurance it will not be susceptible to fire or structurally sound. Is this really acceptable?”
Jayaram said the state shares Inouye’s “concern that this structure has undergone no assessment of its environmental impact and has been erected in violation of state and county regulations and ordinances.”
“This is a remarkable contrast with TMT, which has undergone all environmental, cultural and other reviews required by law,” he said. “This double standard creates further uncertainty about what rules or laws the protest movement envisions for the state’s future. The state has provided notice that the structure must be removed. We expect it to be taken down voluntarily or otherwise very soon.”
County Councilman Tim Richards of Kohala, who supports TMT, described the controversy as “a true moral dilemma.”
“We have houses divided; we have friendships divided over this,” Richards said. “We have strong beliefs on both sides of the argument.”
“The only thing we do know is that, what, 75 or 80 percent of the population supports going forward,” he continued. “But we have a very loud, vocal minority that is deeply concerned, and we cannot invalidate that. But does that dictate the policy? And that’s the question.”
In a position paper published in July, Richards wrote he is “concerned about the future of our county and the generation to come” and urged that all parties “strive for middle ground.”
“It is not reasonable to expect everyone will agree,” he wrote. “We must embrace our past, learn from mistakes, celebrate the successes and use that to guide us forward.”
On Tuesday, Finance Director Deanna Sako told the council the standoff has cost the county $3.6 million to date, $3.4 million in enforcement expenses.
“The legislature will be asked to fund this,” Inouye wrote. “Remember: We legislators don’t have any money — the money we oversee belongs to all of the people of Hawaii to serve their collective needs, so the general public will be paying for this.”
While there have been no additional road obstruction arrests, police continue a heightened presence on Maunakea and have concentrated on traffic enforcement on Daniel K. Inouye Highway, issuing more than 1,200 citations and arresting 16 in two weeks since stepped-up enforcement started in mid-August.
Protest leaders have repeatedly said there will be no compromise that includes the building of TMT on Maunakea. During the initial court date for nine arrested kupuna on Aug. 23, one protest leader, Kahookahi Kanuha, described the stepped-up enforcement as “a tactic of intimidation and harassment, trying to suppress, in a sense, the amount of people that are there and our ability to be there.”
“But I don’t think it’s made any difference. Our people continue to show up. We will continue to show up,” Kanuha said.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.