Maunakea bills shot down

Although the controversy surrounding the Thirty Meter Telescope still looms large over the Big Island community, it has largely left the state Legislature this year.

Certain TMT-related items on the state’s draft operating budget, as well as a handful of bills involving development on Maunakea, have failed to gain traction in the state Legislature and have either died or been redacted.

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A meeting of the House Finance Committee earlier this week removed about $65 million from the state budget that Gov. David Ige had allocated to various state departments for possible future law enforcement actions on Maunakea through 2020 and 2021.

Among the budget items Ige had requested were nearly $36 million for the state’s Department of Defense, $18.4 million for the Department of Transportation and more than $8 million each to the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Department of Public Safety.

Together, those funds — which were reportedly added as a contingency for any project that may attract community activism, not limited strictly to the TMT project — far outstripped the current $15 million that Ige’s office has previously estimated has been spent on TMT-related enforcement.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, includes a $15 million allocation to the Department of Defense for projects that could face opposition, but no more.

The state has still not reimbursed Hawaii County for law enforcement costs incurred by the county during the height of protests by Hawaiian activists against the planned construction of TMT. Although the state had agreed to reimburse the county’s police costs, which totaled more than $8.3 million, the Hawaii County Council rejected that deal in December because they had not reviewed the text of the deal beforehand.

On Monday, Mayor Harry Kim said he “has finished discussing a new agreement with the state”, while the County Corporation Counsel is in the process of drafting a new proposal for a future council meeting.

Meanwhile, a state Senate bill that would prevent future projects such as TMT from being developed on public or Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property without a full referendum by the community has evidently failed.

The bill would require any change in land use by the DHHL, DLNR or the University of Hawaii to obtain public approval by a referendum of nearby adult residents. However, any project within the Maunakea Science Reserve — such as the TMT project — would require a referendum of all residents of the entire county.

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That bill has failed to leave any of its committees in the Senate, dying without any discussion. With that bill’s death, along with the continued failure of a 2019 bill that would prevent outright any development on Maunakea higher than 6,000 feet above sea level, no bills specifically addressing Maunakea development still survive.

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

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