Mayor on Maunakea impasse: ‘If we work on it, we can do it’

  • Mayor Harry Kim speaks to members of the Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise Wednesday morning in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Mayor Harry Kim discusses his proposal for finding resolution to the Maunakea impasse outlined in “Heart of Aloha — Maunakea: A Way Forward” during a Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise meeting Wednesday morning in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Mayor Harry Kim remains steadfast in his commitment to finding a way forward as the standoff over the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea continues.

“My goal is to get, through your help and everybody’s help, to have the people of this island and state to support what we want to do to make it better,” Kim told Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise members Wednesday morning at VFW Post 12122. “My goal and vision, hope and dream is that with that is that the protectors will understand the sincerity of what we are trying to do and they will also support it.

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“Is it a pipe dream? I don’t believe in pipe dreams,” Kim continued. “I believe if we work on it, we can do it.”

Kim’s proposal for finding resolution to the conflict is outlined in “Heart of Aloha — Maunakea: A Way Forward.” He put the pamphlet together and released it in late September; a couple of months after Gov. David Ige tasked him with negotiating with telescope opponents.

“I’m asking this group to really think about the issue beyond the Thirty Meter Telescope,” Kim told the several dozen Rotarians in attendance for the club’s weekly meeting. “This presentation is beyond a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the TMT project, this is about asking Hawaii’s people to come together to find a path to go forward in a good way — I didn’t put down ‘right’ way, I said a ‘good’ way.”

It took 115 drafts to perfect the booklet, which comprises 14 pages plus covers, Kim said. It is the result of many conversations and meetings over the past years with government leaders, guardians of the mountain, community, spiritual leaders, and scientists. His vision has remained relatively unchanged since he first spoke of it as mayor-elect in 2016 to the very same Rotary Club.

“This is over three years ago and nothing I said has changed,” Kim said holding a copy of the 2016 West Hawaii Today article. “You know why? I don’t have to remember what I said – because you say what you know is right from the inside.”

The proposal lists a number of ways that the state and University of Hawaii have addressed grievances by the Hawaiian community and included a vision for the future of Maunakea as an example to the world of a synthesis of culture and science. It also includes several timelines listing how the state has improved upon issues of Hawaiian culture and governance, such as how Hawaiian language education has expanded since 1978.

Included at the end are pledges from Kim, Ige, University of Hawaii President David Lassner, TMT Executive Director Ed Stone, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Interim Director William Aila, and the directors of the Maunakea Observatories, each one promising to commit to improve management and stewardship of the mountain.

Opponents have said they cannot agree with the proposal if it continues to allow the construction of TMT, estimated to cost $1.4 billion. Kim acknowledged that public statement.

“I wish it was not as strong as to that,” he said Wednesday, noting he hopes finding balance and understanding will surmount the differences. “I’m going to take a piece of the pie at a time. Hopefully, this will influence other people – including people who are of the Hawaiian group that are on the mountain. It’s going to take time and I’m asking the telescope people and governors office for time and I realize the impatience of people.”

Protesters — who call themselves protectors or kia‘i of Maunakea — have occupied the Maunakea Access Road since mid-July, with a sizable camp around the protest site. It began as opposition to the construction of TMT on a mountain considered sacred to some Hawaiians, but has since expanded into a broader protest against state mismanagement of Hawaiian affairs.

Kim on Wednesday pointed to the need to understand how the opponents feel in order to find resolution.

He used as example the treatment of Hawaiians, particularly between 1893 through the 1970s and ’80s. From the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom to the banning of speaking Hawaiian language and teaching Hawaiian culture in schools, it essentially told a portion of Hawaii’s population to “step aside.”

“Think about it if you’re Hawaiian,” Kim said, “just think about it and feel it for 1 minute.”

The flags people are flying from vehicles are signs of pride, Kim said. The mayor likened it to the feeling some Asians felt after World War II in the wake of the actions of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

“It must feel good to feel proud of who you are for the first time in your lifetime, but never in your parents lifetime, they never saw this day,” Kim said. “So, when you see that and you have a tinge of anger or whatever you have that is a negative, try to understand a little bit that this is what I have to overcome to show that we as a population do understand.”

When asked about any movement in the standoff, Kim said he sees “a lot of changes,” pointing to the various meetings held and pledges made. He, however, didn’t directly answer the question of whether any protesters seem interested to negotiate.

“This is about the recognition of a deeply painful history which today are reflected in issues such as Maunakea; it is about the wrongs done to indigenous people,” he said.

He also avoided answering directly a question about when protesters will be removed, noting that authority lies with the state.

“I have no argument with the protests, I have problems with protests that block access to places,” said Rotarian Chuck Cartwright. “So far, we really haven’t seen any movement at all on something that is totally illegal and may cost us the telescope.”

Meanwhile, the protest, which reportedly has cost taxpayers nearly $11 million, including county and state expenses, has entered its 19th week.

Kim did state, however, that he wouldn’t have assumed the role he did when asked by Ige if he didn’t think resolution could be had.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t think we had a chance to do this,” he said. “But, first we have to show that we understand some of the pain.

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“We have to show that we not only understand, we commit to making it better.”

Kim’s booklet, “Heart of Aloha — Maunakea: A Way Forward,” is available for perusal online at https://www.hawaiicounty.gov/our-county/mayor/maunakea.

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