Gov. Ige Speaks Out on TMT
As the situation atop Mauna Kea continues to unfold, the saga’s fifth day saw Gov. David Ige take to the microphone as he and his team worked directly from Hawai‘i Island to mitigate the protest against construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Gov. Ige met with the media a little after 3 p.m. on Friday, July 19, 2019. During the press conference, the governor asserted that the actions and attitudes of some of the leaders of the TMT opposition have made conversations difficult.
“I remain committed to finding those places of common ground,” Gov. Ige said. “Both [Hawai‘i Island Mayor Harry Kim] and I have had many discussions with many people. But many of the leaders of this protest do not want to meet. They would rather post to social media, spread rumors and fear rather than engage in real-world conversations about how we move forward together.”
He said the state is willing to sit down with representatives of the self-dubbed “Mauna Protectors” group—the kia‘i—of Mauna Kea and implored those in position to take steps toward that end.
“Right now, I am asking the leaders of this protest to meet,” Gov. Ige continued. “I am asking them to commit to keeping everyone safe, to working together towards the many issues that are fueling the protest. We have lots to do.”
Working out of the second floor of the Hilo International Airport, Gov. Ige said he had no plans to visit Mauna Kea, though added that was not because of any safety concerns.
The governor was pressed on his feelings surrounding the images of authorities arresting a number of kūpuna, some in wheelchairs, on Wednesday. The most recent total included 34 activist arrests in all.
“We have been very patient with all of those on Mauna Kea, but we will continue to enforce the law,” he said. “They were given the opportunity to be respectful and respect the law and they did not. And therefore, they were arrested.”
Gov. Ige added it is his opinion that law enforcement has been exceedingly courteous and respectful amid a difficult set of circumstances, which have the potential to pit friends against friends or even family against family on different sides of the protest line.
Claims that the state had authorized the use of excessive force began circulating Friday, but were rebuffed by both the governor and Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) Chief Jason Redulla, who works under the umbrella of the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“There are no orders or directions from any state government agencies or leader approving the use of excessive force,” Chief Redulla said. “There have been no actions by law enforcement since the protests started that support these outlandish assertions.”
Gov. Ige also addressed such accusations, though even more specifically.
“We will not be utilizing tear gas as some of the rumors have been,” he said. “We’ve never ever thought about that or considered that at all. We are looking for the best way forward without hurting anyone.”
Still, the governor characterized the situation atop Mauna Kea as “unsafe,” which is part of his justification for keeping an emergency proclamation in place that allows for the speedy allocation and re-allocation of resources to deal with any concerns as they develop.
Reports of drug and alcohol use in the protest zone, high-running emotions, as well as the spread of rumors and a crowd of roughly 1,000 protestors Friday that is expected to swell over the weekend warrant concern, Gov. Ige explained.
The potential powder keg of the wrong combinations of elements at play is precisely what the state wants to avoid, he continued, which is why he has not ordered authorities to expedite the clearing of protestors from Mauna Kea by physical means, or otherwise.
“I am deciding not to escalate and add more National Guard troops because I don’t want to exacerbate the situation,” Gov. Ige said. “We are committed as a top priority to the health and safety of everyone involved. I will not put anyone’s safety in jeopardy under any condition.”
As for progress on the mountain, construction equipment still has yet to reach its destination. The governor bucked at an assertion by a media member that he’d set a deadline for commencing construction for this weekend.
Instead, the governor said, the state has been in continuous contact with TMT, though not talking particularly about schedules and times. The state has asked TMT to remain patient, Gov. Ige continued.
The governor and TMT aren’t just catching heat from protestors. On Friday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawai‘i—District 2) offered live commentary on the situation via video and a news release sent to press outlets.
“While the legal process has determined that TMT may proceed, there are spiritual and cultural issues that have not been addressed,” Rep. Gabbard said. “This is about something much greater than the TMT project—it has to do with longstanding history on Mauna Kea, broken promises, desecration of sacred land and disrespect for native culture.”
“I urge Gov. Ige to withdraw the emergency declaration, delay any new construction, and bring leaders together from both sides in the spirit of aloha to hoʻoponopono and determine the best path forward,” she continued. “The people of a given ʻāina must have a role to play in what happens in their ʻāina.”
The governor was asked specifically about Rep. Gabbard’s criticism alongside widespread critical opinions prevalent across the state, but he held resolute in his position.
“I am taking action that I believe is necessary to keep our community safe and be respectful of the laws of everyone in our community,” Gov. Ige said.