Protesters allege the state intends to send Hawaii National Guard troops to Mauna Kea
The activists blocking Mauna Kea Access Road announced Tuesday “there has been word” that the state will use Hawaii National Guard troops and out-of-state law enforcement officers in the next 30 days to clear the way for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope to begin.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
HILO >> The activists blocking Mauna Kea Access Road announced Tuesday “there has been word” that the state will use Hawaii National Guard troops and out-of-state law enforcement officers in the next 30 days to clear the way for construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope to begin.
The TMT opponents cited word of mouth and social media reports that Hawaii Guardsmen are being activated. A spokesman for the Hawaii National Guard referred questions about those reports to the state Attorney General’s Office, which declined comment on “operational details” in response to the protests, including any National Guard activities.
The Hawaii County Council was notified Tuesday that the cost of overtime for police officers stationed at the Mauna Kea protest site has now topped $3.46 million. The total cost of the protests to the county so far is $3.65 million, money the county hopes will be reimbursed by the state.
Mauna Kea Access Road has been closed since July 15, and 38 people were arrested July 17 as they blocked the roadway to prevent construction equipment from reaching the summit to begin site work for the $1.4 billion TMT project. Mauna Kea is considered sacred by some Hawaiians, and the protesters believe construction of the telescope would be a desecration.
In a news release posted Tuesday morning on social media, the protesters said they also have been notified that “law enforcement is considering using excessive force by way of chemical dispersants to punish and suppress our people standing in peace and protection of our mauna.”
The protesters said they plan to continue to oppose the telescope through nonviolent means using the tactics of “kapu aloha,” and plan to reach out to international organizations such as the United Nations and the U.S. Human Rights Network to act as witnesses to the actions of the state.
“Unfortunately, the state of Hawaii has consistently aligned themselves with the investors of the Thirty Meter Telescope and other organizations that support it,” the protesters’ news release said.
Krishna F. Jayaram, special assistant to Attorney General Clare E. Connors, said he would not comment on “operational details” in connection with the protests, but noted that “law enforcement has acted, and will continue to act, with professionalism, and the protesters’ assertion that state law enforcement is ‘considering using excessive force … to punish and suppress our people’ is utterly wrong.”
“Law enforcement is trained to use the appropriate amount of force to make sure that illegal conduct is stopped — in this case, it would be the weeks-long illegal blockage of Mauna Kea Access Road,” Jayaram said in an emailed statement.
State and county law enforcement officials have never disclosed publicly how or when they plan to clear the road, but Gov. David Ige has said his administration will “enforce the law.”
The permitting process for the TMT, including legal challenges, took a decade, and construction is expected to take another 10 years. Supporters of the TMT say the project has the legal right to proceed with construction.
County police who have been stationed at Mauna Kea to monitor the protests have focused much of their efforts on traffic enforcement in recent weeks, and announced last week they have issued 1,240 citations in the areas around the protest site so far.
Police have also arrested 16 people for various offenses, but most of those arrests were in connection with traffic stops on Daniel K. Inouye Highway. Police say they do not know how many, if any, of those people had ties to the protesters.
That stepped-up traffic enforcement left a bad taste with some who testified Tuesday at the Hawaii County Council Finance Committee meeting. Police say the enforcement campaign is needed because of the crowds at the protest site along a busy highway, but some testifiers said the enforcement looks like harassment.
Others objected to paying millions of dollars for police overtime at Mauna Kea that they said could be better spent on roads, parks or police patrols in other communities.
“I totally think it’s so ridiculous — the signs, the money that we’re spending,” said Hilo resident Brenda Kanehailua. “I don’t understand why they’re up there tagging people or even parked on the side of the road. … If TMT needs some kind of security, they should be like other businesses in our community that hire police through special duty.”
“They shouldn’t be doing that,” she said of the stepped-up traffic enforcement. “They’re criminalizing us. We’re motorists, using the highway to go back and forth, and they’re giving tickets to us and to tourists.”