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Hawaii County Council rejects agreement with state on cost of policing TMT protests

                                An artist’s rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope against a backdrop of other Mauna Kea telescopes.
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An artist’s rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope against a backdrop of other Mauna Kea telescopes.

HILO >> Frustration with the standoff on Mauna Kea and the high cost of policing the protests boiled over today as the Hawaii County Council voted 9-0 to reject an agreement that would have required the state to pick up the tab for county police overtime and other protest-related costs.

Council members said they want to recover the millions of dollars that county police have already spent coping with the protests and patrolling the Daniel K. Inouye Highway around the protest camp. But the council refused to endorse a deal signed by Mayor Harry Kim that would have required county police to respond to Mauna Kea protests for up to five more years.

Puna Councilmember Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, who led the opposition to agreement, said he wants to teach the Kim administration “a lesson” that it must consult with council before entering into such agreements, and said he would never agree to taking more state money if it obligates the county to police protests on the mountain for another five years.

Officers who are deployed near the protest site at the base of the Mauna Kea Access Road have issued more than 8,000 traffic citations since mid-August, and police say they are patrolling and writing tickets to make the area safer for motorists and the protesters who regularly walk across the highway.

Gov. David Ige has said the state and counties spent $15 million so far coping with the 22 weeks of non-violent protests designed to block construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Much of that cost has been borne by Hawaii County, which has spent more than $4.7 million on police overtime alone.

The protesters, who call themselves kiai, or protectors, say building 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.

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 remains stalled by the protests.

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