HILO >> Hawaii County police have spent nearly $3 million on overtime so far in connection with the weeks of protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope, and that does not include overtime or other costs racked up by other law enforcement agencies.
Hawaii Island Police Chief Paul Ferreira said today his department spent more than $217,000 on overtime from July 1 to July 15, and nearly $2.77 million more from July 16 to July 31.
Ferreira declined to say how many Hawaii County officers were assigned to work on the protests at the intersection of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway and the Mauna Kea Access Road, but said overtime costs have plummeted since July 28.
“We’ve scaled back considerably,” Ferreira said in an interview. “I have one third of what I had up there originally.”
The totals provided by Ferreira do not include costs associated with state sheriffs and law enforcement officers with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources that were sent to the protests, or the cost of Honolulu and Maui police that were also dispatched to Mauna Kea.
All of Hawaii County’s police officers were working 12-hour shifts at the height of activity on the mountain in the second half of July, and officers assigned to work on the mountain did not get any days off during that period, he said.
Since then, most police have shifted back to eight-hour shifts, although those officers on the mountain continue to work 12-hour shifts, he said.
In a letter dated today, Gov. David Ige assured members of the Hawaii County Council that the state will reimburse the county for its overtime costs as well as other costs associated with the anti-TMT demonstrations such as food, water, equipment and portable toilets for use in the isolated protest area.
“The state will abide by this agreement to support (the county police) enforcement efforts so long as (the department) remains committed to maintaining control of the pertinent roadways,” Ige wrote.
The protests over the $1.4 billion TMT project are now in their fifth week, and at times thousands of opponents of the project have gathered around the intersection of Daniel K. Inouye Highway and Mauna Kea Access Road. The access road has been closed since July 15, and on July 17 police arrested 38 people for blocking the road.
The protesters consider the TMT project to be a desecration of a mountain that many Hawaiians consider sacred, and say they will not allow it to be built. Sponsors of the TMT project spent a decade navigating the state and county permitting processes and fending off legal challenges to the project, and TMT supporters say the project now has the legal right to proceed.