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Hawaii County spends $5 million on TMT protests, mostly on police

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HILO >> The protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope have so far cost Hawaii County more than $5 million, according to the latest cost update provided to members of the Hawaii County Council today.

By far the largest chunk of those county costs have been police overtime and fringe benefits, which now total $4.56 million for the four months of protests at the base of the Mauna Kea Access Road, according to a summary provided by the county Department of Finance.

The next largest item for the county has been $176,393 spent by Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim’s office, with almost all of that money used to hire crossing guards to help the protesters to safely cross back and forth across the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road. That busy road with a 60 mph speed limit cuts through the hub of protest activity on Mauna Kea.

Gov. David Ige has pledged to reimburse Hawaii County for most of the costs it has incurred in dealing with the protests, and the Hawaii County Finance Committee today will consider a resolution to authorize the county to accept up to $10 million in reimbursements to cover police costs in dealing with the TMT.

The county costs are only a fraction of the total cost of the protests. State officials earlier this month reported a tally of related costs that include $2.2 million for the Hawaii National Guard, $1.2 million for the Department of Public Safety Department, and $1.6 million for the state Attorney General’s office.

A total of $1.1 million in other protest-related costs have also been reported for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the state Department of Transportation, and the Honolulu and Maui police departments. However, some of those costs do not include expenses that have been incurred during the past month.

The protesters, who call themselves kiai, or protectors, say the TMT would be a desecration of a mountain that many Hawaiians consider sacred. They say they will not allow the telescope to be built.

The nonviolent protests at times have attracted thousands to the intersection of the highway and Mauna Kea Access Road at times, and the access road has been closed since July 15. On July 17 police arrested 39 people for blocking the road.

Supporters of the TMT say the project has won the legal right to proceed. Sponsors of the TMT spent a decade obtaining permits and fending off legal challenges, but construction of the telescope has been stalled by the protests.

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