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Council Scraps $10 Million Maunakea Reimbursement Deal With State

December 19, 2019, 5:30 AM HST
* Updated December 19, 3:33 AM
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Maunakea protectors block Mauna Kea Access Road, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

The Hawai‘i County Council on Wednesday spoke in a unified voice against a resolution that would have transferred the financial burden created by the Maunakea demonstration against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope to the State.

Councilmembers voted unanimously to shoot down an agreement endorsed by Mayor Harry Kim, which would have brought back $10 million from the State in the form of a grant to cover Maunakea-related costs.

One sticking point was that the agreement included a stipulation to keep Hawai‘i Police Department officers on the hook for response to demonstration-related activity for the next half-decade. Another was that Mayor Kim and the State reached the accord before the Council had an opportunity to weigh in.

“I just want the administration to stop treating the Council like a rubber stamp,” said District 4 Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz. “We’re going to ask for the details, so save yourselves the trouble and just provide us the information.”

She also voiced concerns about how the agreement approached the use of public money, referring to the Council as “the guardians of taxpayer dollars.”

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“I’m not OK with signing off on the $10 million … because it’s a blank check — no end in sight, no plan for how we move forward, what the money is going to be used for,” Kierkiewicz continued. “And I think five years is too long to figure that out. It’s way too long.”

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The Council was clear it wants an agreement allowing for State reimbursement of the nearly $5 million the County has already spent just on police overtime, as well as other expenses. However, this deal wasn’t it.

“We need the reimbursement,” said District 9 Councilman Tim Richards. “We definitely need it.”

During discussion, Richards said he was on the fence about the reimbursement deal before ultimately voting it down along with all of his colleagues.

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Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said the money isn’t worth a requirement that pulls police away from their normal duties for up to another five years.

Maunakea protectors block Mauna Kea Access Road, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

Councilwoman Maile David, of District 6, said she cast her vote against authorizing an act that was already finalized without prior review or input by the Council.

She voted as she did “to follow the law, adhere to established processes and procedures, and to maintain transparency in government.” David added that police presence on Maunakea isn’t necessary “on stand-by,” but only as specific needs arise or when a call for help is made.

David said it was her understanding that officers pulling double duty on the mountain has hurt policing efforts elsewhere, though HPD officials have previously stated police work has continued as normal across the Big Island’s nine sprawling districts.

Councilman Aaron Chung, of District 2, described the police action on the mountain as essentially “a really high-priced speed trap.”

An enhanced traffic enforcement effort in the name of pedestrian and motorist safety began on Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) near the Maunakea Access Road on Aug. 15, 2019. In the four months since, more than 8,000 tickets have been written to motorists driving Saddle Road, the vast majority of them for speeding.

Fines levied as a result of extra enforcement have yielded hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that flows back into the State General Fund but represents only a fraction of the total spent on the mountain.

Based on recent calculations, the overall cost of the now five-month-long demonstration against TMT stands at around $15 million.

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