Ige: State spent $15 million on Maunakea access

  • Gov. David Ige
  • Hawaii governor David Ige, second from left, walks with Big Island mayor Harry Kim as kupuna Noe Noe Wong-Wilson walks at right after a visit to the ninth day of protests against the TMT telescope on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at the base of Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island. The governor of Hawaii on Tuesday visited protesters blocking the construction of a giant telescope on the state’s tallest mountain while acknowledging that their grievances were not just about a new observatory but also about the treatment of Native Hawaiians going back more than a century. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP, File)

HILO — Gov. David Ige said Monday that the state has “spent about $15 million in trying to provide safe and secure access for Maunakea” as the blockade of Maunakea Access Road by protesters of the Thirty Meter Telescope project has entered its sixth month.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the full County Council will vote in Kona on a resolution that would authorize Mayor Harry Kim to enter into an agreement with the state to receive $10 million to reimburse the county for law enforcement expenditures incurred because of an enhanced police presence at the site of the blockade, as well as a companion measure to appropriate the $10 million to the proper account.

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Opponents of the $1.4 billion observatory project, who call themselves kia‘i, or protectors, of Maunakea, have camped near the intersection of the access road and Daniel K. Inouye Highway since mid-July, blocking construction workers and vehicles from scaling the mountain to build the next-generation telescope.

Addressing the issue of state costs incurred during the Maunakea standoff while speaking at a briefing for media of the state’s supplemental budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, Ige said he asked his department heads to “incorporate estimates of what we think is necessary” and “contingency requests” in the supplemental budget.

“Certainly it’s (cost) more than we thought it would,” Ige said. “But, you know, part of the notion is that we believe we have an obligation to ensure that those that are legally permitted with projects have the ability to access their construction sites so that the projects can move forward.”

County Finance Director Deanna Sako said during a Dec. 3 meeting of the Council’s Finance Committee that as of Nov. 1, the county had spent about $4.5 million in police costs and the $10 million figure in the agreement was to cover increasing police expenditures as the agreement was being developed.

The Finance Committee voted 7-2 to move the council resolution and companion appropriation bill to the full Council for Wednesday’s vote. The two nay votes were by Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder and Council Chairman Aaron Chung. The former expressed misgivings that county Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela didn’t provide copies of the memorandum of agreement to council members.

“We’re about to sign an agreement without knowing anything about it,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said during the Dec. 3 committee meeting.

Chung said Monday that council members have since been given copies of the agreement but added, “I’m not changing my vote unless … a huge revelation comes up in terms of what they’re spending the money for.”

Chung has been critical of ramped-up traffic enforcement by Hawaii Police Department officers assigned to the protest site, calling it an expensive “speed trap.” As of Dec. 11, according to police, the stepped-up enforcement started Aug. 15 has resulted in 8,013 citations issued and 74 people arrested for 135 offenses. Police say they will continue the enhanced enforcement for the duration of the protest for the safety of motorists and pedestrians.

“This thing has been going on for five months. We’ve spent about $4 million dollars on that, right? I don’t see a plan,” Chung said. “So it only leads me to believe that five months hence we’re going to have spent $8 million, and 16,000 traffic citations. I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t think that’s a good use of financial resources whether it’s from the state or the county.

“Bear in mind that I’m generally supportive of the TMT project but I don’t know what we’re spending the money for up there. If we’re not going to open up the road and get the police off the mountain, we’re just spending and throwing good money after bad.”

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The resolution authorizing Kim to enter into the agreement to receive $10 million will get one vote only by the full Council. The appropriation bill, if approved on first reading Wednesday, will receive another reading at a later date before it goes into effect.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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