Chin leads state planning to address TMT protests
State and county officials led by Lt. Gov. Doug Chin have done extensive planning in recent years to prepare for the possibility of widespread protests in connection with the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, and at least some of those plans may involve the use of Hawaii National Guard equipment, according to sources familiar with the preparations.
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HILO >> State and county officials led by Lt. Gov. Doug Chin have done extensive planning in recent years to prepare for the possibility of widespread protests in connection with the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, and at least some of those plans may involve the use of Hawaii National Guard equipment, according to sources familiar with the preparations.
That extensive planning effort grew out of the state response to the anti-TMT protests that erupted on Mauna Kea early in Gov. David Ige’s administration, a response that was seen by many in the public as tentative and uncertain.
After 31 protesters were arrested on April 2, 2015, for blocking construction equipment, Ige announced the first of a series of pauses in construction activity. He traveled to the mountain to meet with protesters to better understand the issues, and also participated in a prayer and cultural protocol at the summit.
Ige then offered a “proposed way forward” in May 2015 that included asking the university to remove one-fourth of the telescopes now on the mountain, but the protesters later used boulders to again block the summit access road to prevent construction crews from reaching the TMT construction site.
Chin, who was then Ige’s state attorney general, oversaw the law enforcement response to that round of protests, which involved another dozen arrests.
Construction then paused during years of litigation and a prolonged contested hearing over a key permit for the project, and the TMT sponsors removed their construction equipment from the mountain.
Since then, Ige has said publicly that his administration is “committed to assure and protect the rights of individuals to … voice their opinion on the project. At the same time, we are prepared to assure access to those who are permitted to proceed.”
Those preparations overseen by Chin first as attorney general and later as lieutenant governor, involved the state Department of Public Safety’s Sheriff Division, officers from the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, the Hawaii County Police Department, and some participation by the National Guard.
“They don’t want another fiasco where DOCARE officers are shedding tears and embracing protesters,” the source said. “They want this to be like Haleakala, where they were all over ’em.”
Maui police arrested a half-dozen people on Aug. 2, 2017, when they attempted to block a convoy of vehicles hauling equipment for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope at Haleakala.
If there are renewed protests on Mauna Kea in connection with TMT, “they’ve got a logistics plan. It’s full on,” said a source familiar with the arrangements.
Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim met with Ige at least once in 2016 to discuss those preparations, and committed to helping with the response, according to a source. Kim did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for Chin said in a written statement, “Lt. Gov. Chin has every confidence that the Ige administration will provide legal and safe access to Mauna Kea.”
Maj. Jeff Hickman, public affairs officer for the Hawaii National Guard, said “Concerning the TMT, the Hawaii National Guard will work with the governor’s office. We have not pre-positioned any equipment in regards to the most recent TMT ruling.”