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Mauna Spending Continues to Rise

September 7, 2019, 9:32 AM HST
* Updated September 7, 9:35 AM
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Hundreds of women lock arms during TMT protests, July 17, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

Hawai‘i County spending continues to rise as the protest against construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea stretches into its seventh week.

The Hawai‘i County Council meeting on Sept. 3, 2019, covered topics including answering specifically how expenses relating to Mauna Kea are being tracked, figures for funds expended in 2015 relating to Mauna Kea and the current total of funds extended relating to Mauna Kea.

The request for a financial report of county expenses relating to Mauna Kea was made by Councilmember Matt Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder.

Hawai‘i County Finance Director Dianna Sako said the total cost to date is $3.65 million; $3.4 million will go to the Hawai‘i Police Department for overtime costs.

There has been an increase of $378,000 since previous figures were reported to the council.

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Director Sako said the most recent numbers reflect costs for police and some Hawai‘i Fire Department overtime for August.

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“That’s a very substantial drop from the first round,” said Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder. “We went from where we had $258,000 to $3.2 million in two weeks.”

Councilmember Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder asked Hawai‘i County Police Chief Paul Ferreira the reason for the drop.

Chief Ferreira explained that HPD officers are back to their regular eight-hour shifts. He said that the entire island went on 12-hour shifts to provide enough manpower to escort the construction equipment up the mountain.

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Ferreira told the council they can expect the cost to continue to rise by $350,000 to $400,000 every two weeks as long as law enforcement continues to patrol the intersection of the Daniel K. Inouye  Highway (Saddle Road) and Mauna Kea Access Road. He said the numbers could change if they are told to pull back or increase numbers up there.

Mauna Protector Billy Freitas embraces another protector during the third day of the TMT standoff. July 17, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

Councilmember Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder then asked Director Sako about the status of a written agreement between the county and the state Attorney General’s Office, stating they would reimburse the county for all expenses incurred.

She said the county has sent bills to the AG’s Office, but that to date, they have not yet been paid. Director Sako said they are not billing the AG’s Office the entire $3.65 million, just the cost of the police and fire services.

“I think right now we have only billed fire and police,” said Director Sato. “That’s my understanding of what the agreement was, prior to the start—just those two departments.”

When asked if the AG’s Office has said they will not pay for the total cost, Director Sako said she was unsure, but said she knew they had asked the county specifically for police and fire costs.

“Usually we get an agreement beforehand that is signed,” said Councilmember Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder. “How come that didn’t happen this time?”

Director Sako said that they prefer getting a signed agreement beforehand, but it wasn’t her office that made the decision. She didn’t know why there wasn’t a signed agreement.

Chief Ferreira said there are approximately 20 officers in the area of Maunakea Access Road and Daniel K. Inouye Highway. He said this number was determined by the county. This is the minimum number of officers needed, he said, adding that he would not lower the current number.

TMT protestors, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

“What is happening on Maunakea is not in harmony with this county’s needs,” said Councilmember Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder. “We’re spending a lot of money. We are creating a huge amount of divisiveness amongst our community. We are putting our officers and our families and our children and pulling in different directions and it really just isn’t doing our county any good.

Think of all the good the money could have been put use in the community rather than millions of dollars for protecting an international corporation, he said.

“We’ve squandered millions of dollars on the protection of a corporation that is not state-owned and not a county operation, said Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder “These are not public companies. I just can’t swallow that.”

In addition to Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder, Councilmember Valerie Poindexter expressed concerns about having enough law enforcement to keep the community protected.

“I am having such a hard time in several communities throughout my coastline having the availability of a community police officer… the community is calling me about drug houses, drug activities, an increase in crime, how do we address it, who is our community police officer,” explained Poindexter. “When you’re saying you have that many police officers on the mauna, are you taking our community police officers and putting them up there instead of having them available to us?”

Chief Ferreira said that most of the officers up on the mountain are from specialized units, not from a community policing program.

Kūpuna on the frontline of Mauna Protectors’ roadblock of Maunakea Access Road on July 17, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

District 3 Councilmember Susan Lee Loy asked a few questions to clarify the numbers. She said her calculations bring the numbers to $450,000 to $650,000 a week for law enforcement on the mauna.

She said although the Memorandum of Understanding or Memorandum of Agreement are still being developed between the county and state, she asked Director Sako to clarify if the county would be billing all costs incurred. Councilmember Lee Loy said she wanted them to try to bill for everything, including the time the county council spent on discussion of reimbursement.

Director Sako said they don’t normally bill unless it is paid in overtime and that there is no way to bill for it. This means the $3.6 million is only a portion of what the County of Hawai‘i is actually paying for law enforcement in the area of the road blockade and Pu‘uhonu O Pu‘uhuluhulu.

Today marks day 56 of the Mauna Kea Access Road blockade.

Offerings are given during protocol, August 11, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

“The issue, I think is not actually TMT,” Sandra Kirkpatrick testified. “TMT is almost an aside. It’s just kind of gotten caught up in all the other issues that have gotten brought up.”

She said she would be right beside protestors if they were challenging the Department of Hawaiian Homelands instead of a telescope.

“So, to me, this is not a good use of very much,” said Kirkpatrick. “I think the telescope will do nothing but good for Hawai‘i. I am sorry to see the effort and energy is not being directed towards what they say their real concerns are. That actually kind of hurts. I am very much in favor of the TMT and I hate to see it being made the scapegoat for all these other things.”

Brenda Kanehailua from Pi‘ihonua also testified regarding the expense.

“I’m here today to give a comment on this $4 million and the signs on Mauna Kea and the police up there tagging people,” said Kanehailua. “I totally think it is so ridiculous. The signs, the money that we are spending… I don’t understand why police are up there patrolling.

Kanehailua said she feels TMT should provide its own security and hire police for special duty.

“Four million dollars?” asked Kanehailua. “Where are we going to get that? Because obviously, the governor doesn’t want to give us that money. I feel like it is extortion, when he makes our mayor tell our chief of police to tell our police officers to go up there and make hakaka [create contention or controversy] with everybody. That is not fair. I have lived here my whole life. Listen to us. Not to a foreign entity.”

Mauna Protectors block road on July, 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

“The money that we are wasting for all this mauna really is needed. It’s not a joke,” testified Melissa Cummings.

Floyd Eaglin expressed concern over Gov. David Ige not granting Mayor Kim’s request to delay construction for 30 days. He wondered if he had granted the delay, might the situation have unfolded differently?

“We are the most divided by the difference of opinion on TMT than on any other project that has risen in this state,” said Eaglin. “One has to hope this disgraceful dilemma will not keep us apart.”

These numbers do not reflect the Sept. 6 operations to remove an unpermitted structure on DHHL land near Pu‘uhonua O Pu‘uhuluhulu.

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