Bill would allow counties to charge developers for law enforcement costs

  • COUNCILMAN AARON CHUNG

  • SEN. GIL RIVIERE

  • MAYOR HARRY KIM

A bill introduced in the state Legislature would give counties the authority to charge a developer for up to half of law enforcement costs related to a project.

Senate Bill 2601, introduced by Sen. Gil Riviere, an Oahu Democrat passed its first reading Tuesday and was referred Friday to the Public Safety and Ways and Means committees, neither of which immediately scheduled hearings. Co-sponsors of the legislation are Sens. Stanley Chang, Kurt Fevella, Les Ihara and Maile Shimabukuro, all Oahu Democrats.

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The bill refers to the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Maunakea, quoting a Honolulu Star-Advertiser story which stated that between July and October 2019, the state and counties had spent at least $8.3 million in law enforcement costs related to protests that kept construction vehicles, workers and material from scaling the mountain.

It also mentions “law enforcement services … being used for the construction of the Na Pua Makani wind turbine project in Kahuku, Oahu.”

That project, like TMT, has garnered protests and arrests.

The measure, if passed into law, would allow counties to collect “up to 50% of costs associated with providing law enforcement services for the construction of a project from the developer of the project; provided that law enforcement services were provided by the county in the furtherance of ensuring public safety and are provided for more than five days.”

Counties would be able to invoice the project’s developer “after the fifth day of providing law enforcement services.”

According to the legislation, “controversial developments that face prolonged public opposition and require extraordinary police protection should be cognizant of financial and staffing costs. These projects should share in the extraordinary expenses expended on their behalf.”

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said Thursday afternoon he read the measure twice.

“The first time around, it struck me that this is not right — and the second time around, it was more not right,” Kim said. “No. 1, the developer had to follow all the rules in regards to getting that permit to build. And No. 2, I think the public, except for Mickey Mouse things, has the opportunity to make input. And No. 3, it seems we’re penalizing the person in regards to following the laws and rules in regards to getting that permit, and after the permit has been granted, by saying after five days you have to pay for the costs of protecting your rights.”

County Council Chairman Aaron Chung said he doesn’t think the legislation will become law.

“Inasmuch as none of our senators have signed off (as co-sponsors) on it, and it relates to our island, I doubt it’s going to gain any traction,” Chung said.

Maunakea is considered sacred to some Native Hawaiians, and protesters of the $1.4 billion telescope — who call themselves kia‘i, or protectors of the mountain — conducted a successful blockade of Maunakea Access Road between mid-July and late December. They disbanded their encampment after receiving assurances from Kim there will be no construction activities until at least the end of February.

Gov. David Ige said on Dec. 16 that the state has “spent about $15 million in trying to provide safe and secure access for Maunakea.”

“If you notice, (the bill) said county reimbursement. It said nothing about state reimbursement,” Kim said. “I thought it was odd they would do that since the vast majority of the expenses were borne by the state, as far as the Maunakea issue.”

The Hawaii County Council on Dec. 19 unanimously rejected a $10 million reimbursement deal with the state. The sticking point on the memorandum of agreement, which was entered into by Kim, Ige and Attorney General Clare Connors with no input from the council, was the five-year duration of the deal and that the state would determine how the money would be used.

That deal has been reworked, Kim said, and is being resubmitted to the council for reconsideration.

The county accrued more than $5 million in law enforcement expenses related to the protests, and Assistant Police Chief Samuel Thomas told the Police Commission on Dec. 20 the department is $3 million over budget and attributed “a fair amount of that to … manpower overtime” related to enforcement on Maunakea.

State Sen. Lorraine Inouye said Riviere’s bill was not forwarded to her office for her signature. She said she was unaware of its introduction and has no comment at this time.

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The Tribune-Herald also reached out to the other three Hawaii Island state senators — Kai Kahele, Dru Kanuha and Russell Ruderman — but none immediately replied.

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

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