Big Island mayor says he has little authority over law enforcement at TMT protest

Updated: Jul. 29, 2019 at 6:05 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Mayor Harry Kim said Monday he’s hoping for a peaceful resolution to the TMT conflict without using violence.

But he also said he has little authority over law enforcement.

“I cannot call the Guard. Because I don’t have the authority and who wants it, right? I don’t even want this job,” said Kim.

The statements came on the 15th day of TMT protests at the base of Mauna Kea. The protest is blocking construction equipment for the Thirty Meter Telescope from accessing the summit.

Earlier this month, after making no progress, Gov. David Ige gave the mayor broad authority over the state’s response to the conflict and said Kim was “taking the lead” in the push to find a solution.

[Read more: Impasse continues as both sides make clear there’s little middle ground in TMT conflict]

When asked why law enforcement allowed the camp to grow, Kim said, "I will try my damndest to be better in how we respond to this.”

Protesters said they were heartened by Kim’s statements and want TMT to come to the table.

“It was clear in his press conference that he does not have answers," said Kahookahi Kanuha, one of the leaders of the protest. “He doesn’t know how this is going to end and he doesn’t not know how they are going to move forward. We have answers. The TMT has other options.”

But critics wonder why the mayor, and not the governor, is leading the effort to end the standoff.

“The governor should be handling this period," said TMT supporter and former Gov. Ben Cayetano. “You don’t just delegate this crisis to a mayor. So I don’t agree with that.”

He says Ige should be enforcing the law and clearing the protest camp without National Guard.

"It's a very difficult situation, but had they nipped it in the bud, I don't think it would be what it is today," said Cayetano.

Hawaii News Now repeatedly asked the Governor’s Office on Monday for clarification on Kim’s role and they have not issued any statements.

Meanwhile, a day after TMT opponents said a deal had been reached to allow telescope technicians access to the summit, the Maunakea Observatories said there was no such deal.

“That was a surprise to us. The Maunakea Observatories had not entered into any negotiations. I have not made any deals of any kind regarding access to the mountain for our staff,” said Jessica Dempsey, Deputy Director, East Asian Observatory.

This story will be updated.

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