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Lt. Gov. Green Warns Casualties Could Result if TMT Not Resolved

July 24, 2019, 3:52 AM HST
* Updated July 24, 6:08 AM
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Gov. David Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green. Courtesy photo.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green made his way up Mauna Kea Monday, July 22, 2019, to meet with old friends and new constituents fighting for a cause in which they believe fervently.

He descended the mountain several hours later with an intensified sense of urgency that a compromise between the state and protesters of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) must be reached immediately. The situation atop Mauna Kea, he said, is unsustainable. And it could result in tragedy.

“I was very worried about the Kūpuna,” Lt. Gov. Green said. “It’s extremely cold and wet up there. If the crisis continues for a long time, there will be casualties.”

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

Lt. Gov. Green was a long-time state senator representing west Hawai‘i Island and made his career as a physician for nearly two decades in hospitals across Hawai‘i County.

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But his personal connection to patients, voters, family and friends on the island isn’t the only reason he’s shown solidarity with the protesters, despite construction of the telescope having navigated legal and approval processes over the span of several years.

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“There’s an enormous difference between a legal process and a cultural process,” Lt. Gov. Green said. “This is a cultural question for people who have a long history of disenfranchisement. Would we ask to build the telescope on the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem? No, not without the buy-in from that culture and its leaders. Any decision to go forward needs to be embraced on both sides. Legal battles don’t do that.”

He said many of the protesters he spoke with were disheartened, feeling promises the state and TMT made weren’t met, namely the decommissioning and removal of multiple telescopes no longer in use yet still situated on a mountain Hawaiians consider sacred.

“I apologized on the mountain if the government over the last 20 years hasn’t don’t a good job finding common ground,” Lt. Gov. Green said.

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His role, as he sees it, moving forward is to listen to the “protectors” and provide his boss, Gov. David Ige, with advice. Asked whether he agreed with the governor’s decision to keep an emergency declaration in place and continue sending law enforcement up Mauna Kea, Lt. Gov. Green deferred to the higher office.

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

“I leave the decison to him,” Lt. Gov. Green said. “I have a great deal of respect for him. I know this is very hard work.”

Gov. Ige showed signs the work carries considerable weight Tuesday, as he announced he was taking a step back and naming Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim the official representative of both the county’s interests and the state’s interests regarding the TMT protest on Mauna Kea moving forward.

The mayor has a difficult road ahead to navigate, as Lt. Gov. Green said from a practical standpoint, TMT won’t go forward if a peace with protesters isn’t brokered.

“The protectors and the Kūpuna are not going to leave, period,” he said. “If forced to leave, they will just come back.”

He added he does believe there’s a way forward, one that would likely begin with agreements to decommission telescopes, build an Ahu on Mauna Kea and then move on to discussions about how to approach astronomy on the mountain.

“A good faith effort will be rewarded with a good faith partnership,” Lt. Gov. Green said. “If everyone listens with an open heart, I do think it’s possible. (But) right now, there’s a very large open wound. Until that wound is addressed, from decades of disenfranchisement, it’s hard to make anything happen.”

“A larger solution is called for.”

Gov. Ige made a trip to Mauna Kea the afternoon of Tuesday, July 23, 2019. 

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