HILO >> Hawaii County police have spent nearly $4.2 million on overtime and fringe benefits so far in connection with 11 weeks of protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope, a sum that works out to more than $50,000 a day, according to briefing materials provided to members of the County Council today.
Overall, the county police, Fire Department, Civil Defense and other agencies have spent more than $4.4 million coping with the protests, a sum that does not include overtime or other costs incurred by other agencies including the state’s Department of Public Safety, Attorney General’s office, or Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Hawaii island Police Chief Paul Ferreira has said the county scaled back considerably on the number of officers it keeps on hand near the protest site at the base of the Mauna Kea Access Road since opponents of the telescope project began camping on the access road in mid-July.
Still, there is a considerable police presence on the mountain. Police announced on Sept. 26 they had issued 3,501 citations to motorists on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway since Aug. 15 as part of a stepped up enforcement effort in the areas around the protests. Police on the mountain have also arrested 37 people.
Police say they have no way of knowing how many of the people they ticketed have ties to the protests, but the activists say most of those who were cited were passing motorists or tourists with no connection to the protest camp.
The highway runs through the site of the protests, and police say the enforcement effort is intended to enhance motorists’ and pedestrians’ safety.
The protesters say the TMT project is 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.