Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope have raised $250,000 to pay for the travel costs for Native American and other protesters from the mainland to come to the islands, Hawaii News Now has learned.
The so-called "protectors fund" would pay for the travel and lodging of up to 150 people, many of whom took part in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Kealoha Pisciotta, of the Mauna Kea Hui, did not know about the fund until being contacted by Hawaii News Now and stressed that her group is also not affiliated with the fund. But she said TMT protests have had support from the mainland in the past.
"We've had lots and lots of people give that kind of support for Mauna Kea," Pisciotta said, adding she also is not encouraging protesters from North Dakota to come to the islands.
Organizers of the fund believe that bringing pipeline protesters to Hawaii will increase global attention of the TMT protests and could help avoid future confrontations with police.
But newly-elected Big Island Mayor Harry Kim worries that more protesters, especially those who experienced success by blocking the Dakota pipeline, could escalate matters.
"I don't care to see people not from here involved in this. This is a very important issue that people here are concerned about," he said. "There is no way that I would be in any kind of approval of a confrontational mode and I feel that that may just add to that."
As with the Dakota pipeline protests, water may become a key issue in the TMT debate.
Opponents worry that wastewater from the TMT could contaminate nearby drinking waters, which they say are used by Native Hawaiians for cultural and healing practices.
But during Tuesday's TMT hearing, an expert hired by the University of Hawaii at Hilo said there's little chance of that.
"TMT is proposing zero wastewater disposal. Both the domestic wastewater and mirror washing waste water would be collected and transported off site," said hydrologist Tom Nance.
Because the hearings will likely continue though February, it's not clear when imported demonstrators might come in or what role they would play.