Whose jurisdiction? County Ethics Board continues Maunakea debate

  • Structures and vehicles at the base of Maunakea on Aug. 26, 2020. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

Who should enforce the law when protesters block the access road to Maunakea and continue to have unpermitted structures there remained in question Wednesday as the county Board of Ethics struggled with a board resolution and a citizen petition that’s been pending since January.

The board considered its position behind closed doors Wednesday and then again postponed a decision to give Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela a chance to explain a 10-page memo he drafted in response to the board’s question about whether it should hire an outside attorney to help parse county and state laws.


In the meantime, Chairman Rick Robinson suggested the petitioners, Lisa Malakaua and Mike Nathaniel, file their petition with the state Ethics Commission as well. That body has staff and budget to investigate the issue, he said.

Malakaua said she had initially filed the complaint with Gov. David Ige, but he sent it to Mayor Harry Kim.

While Maunakea is under state jurisdiction and enforced by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Ige had delegated much of the responsibility to Kim. In addition, siting structures in a conservation district and whether building permits are required fall under county jurisdiction.

“In addition to DLNR’s own reports, we have documented environmental damage caused by the encampment that continues to this day,” Malakaua and Nathaniel said in their petition. “The state’s non-enforcement of its clear laws we believe count as an ethical violation: they are undermining their self-professed commitment to protect and preserve natural resources.”

Protest leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson maintains the issue is under the jurisdiction of DLNR and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, not the county.

The county earlier this year accepted $5.3 million from the state as reimbursement for police overtime costs incurred between July 15 and Dec. 31 of last year — a period of increased traffic enforcement on Daniel K. Inouye Highway as scores of protesters occupied a camp on Maunakea Access Road.

The road was blocked from July 16 to Dec. 26, 2019, by protesters, who call themselves “kia‘i,” or “protectors,” opposed to construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea. The groups agreed to stand down, at least temporarily, while negotiations continue.


The larger camp on approximately 50 acres along Saddle Road, also known as Daniel K. Inouye Highway, was dismantled but some structures remain.

The county Ethics Board plans to take up both its own resolution and the citizen petition at its Oct. 14 meeting.

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