Day 9: Gov. Ige Hands Operations Over to Mayor Kim

July 23, 2019, 11:22 PM HST (Updated July 23, 2019, 11:23 PM)
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TMT protest, DAY 3, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

Gov. David Ige has taken himself off the front lines, naming Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim lead negotiator in the standoff with protesters over construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop Mauna Kea, which has now stretched into its ninth day.

The governor’s office released a statement Tuesday, July 23, 2019, with his explanation for the decision.

“Today, I am asking Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim to coordinate both county and state efforts to peacefully attempt to reach common ground with the protectors of Maunakea and the broader community,” the statement said. “Mayor Kim is closest to the situation and the impacts are greatest on the island he leads.”

“I support the vision he has widely articulated for Maunakea as a beacon of hope and discovery for the world that brings us together rather than divides us,” Gov. Ige continued. “And we both understand that the issues underlying what is taking place today are far deeper than TMT or Maunakea. They are about righting the wrongs done to the Hawaiian people going back more than a century.”

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Gov. Ige’s office had not provided a response to inquiries surrounding why he chose to step away or the timing of that decision as of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. The governor had come under intense pressure in recent days from several county, state and federal officials to withdraw the emergency proclamation and remove law enforcement from the mountain.

Mayor Kim could not be reached for comment as of noon on Tuesday. He visited the Pu‘uhonua o Puʻu Huluhulu on the mountain Saturday, after which he commended protesters for their peaceful nature and stated he felt comfortable during his time on the mountain.

The mayor assumes the mantle of negotiations as more discussion has emerged surrounding the cost of law enforcement’s presence on Mauna Kea.

Senior Communications Manager with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Dan Dennison in his daily update Tuesday read a statement from the Attorney General’s office as to inquiries on the cost of the operation.

“Since we are in the middle of the operation, it’s not possible to provide accurate costs to date,” the statement said. “The state agencies are funded so we can fulfill our law enforcement duties, and the state is committed to ensuring that lawfully permitted construction proceeds. To be clear, we are not providing public guards for a private project. We have proactively planned for and are responding to a situation where people’s safety is in jeopardy and a lawfully permitted project’s security is at risk.”

TMT protest, DAY 3, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

A total of 56 HPD officers were dispatched from O‘ahu to Mauna Kea to provide assistance to Hawai‘i County authorities after the protest began. Those officers departed for home Tuesday. Dennison said their salaries will be paid by the Honolulu Police Department. The state will foot the bill for travel and other expenses.

As to possible replacements for those officers, and the cost of those replacements, Dennison said he could not elaborate due to concerns over operational security.

In an interview Tuesday with Big Island Now, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, formerly a state senator for Hawai‘i Island, spoke to the multiple forms cost is assuming at 7,000 feet.

“We want peace,” Lt. Gov. Green said. “The officers want peace. They know a prolonged standoff is not sustainable for the state from financial standpoint, or for the people up there and their health.”

Dennison said Tuesday one medical issue arose over the previous 24 hours. It involved a 21-year-old man suffering from altitude sickness. An ambulance was called, but the man was eventually able to leave the scene of his own accord. Police made no arrests on the mountain over the last day.

There are still roughly 1,000 protesters gathered on the mountain, a figure that’s held relatively steady on weekdays since the protest began and has as much as doubled on weekends.

Lt. Gov. Green, who doubles as a doctor when he’s not governing, expressed significant concern considering the large number of Kūpuna amid the crowd and the volatile weather they, and other protesters, are enduring.

“It’s extremely cold and wet up there,” said Lt. Gov. Green, who visited Mauna Kea Monday. “If the crisis continues for a long time, there will be casualties.”

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