HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The costs of assigning law enforcement to a protest at the base of Mauna Kea are mounting, leaving some concerned about how taxpayers will cover the tab.
Hawaii County Council members say they were surprised recently to see how much the Big Island spent over a two-week period on law enforcement costs associated with the TMT conflict.
From July 1 to 15, Hawaii County spent $258,000 on Mauna Kea-related law enforcement salaries, supplies and overtime, officials told the council this week.
And those two weeks came before a larger law enforcement contingent moved in.
“It’s hard to swallow that we spent $258,000 without knowing that we’ll be reimbursed on a project that isn’t completely county-related,” said Hawaii County Council member Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder.
It isn’t just Hawaii County that’s accruing costs.
Mauna Kea Access Road is state-owned so most of the police presence there has been state Land Department officers.
And on July 17, more than 50 Honolulu police officers in riot gear came out when the state land officers arrested more than two dozen kupuna, but then were told to stand down.
Big Island council members say they expect even greater costs to come.
This is the fourth week of the protest at Mauna Kea, and protesters have said they’re prepared to stay for as long as it takes to stop the Thirty Meter Telescope project.
“I’m actually bracing for a bigger number because these numbers only take us to July 15th when so much activity happened the second half of July,” said Hawaii County Council member Sue Lee Loy.
Hawaii News Now obtained a July 17 letter from Maui's police chief Tivoli Faaumu to the Maui County Council with approval signature from Maui Mayor Mike Victorino.
In it, Faaumu writes, “The County of Maui taxpayers will not incur any cost in relation to the travel and police presence on Maunakea. The County of Hawaii will be responsible for all associated costs."
"All pay associated with overtime will be incurred by the county of Hawaii," the letter continued.
“It really opened the eyes to everyone here. If we are covering the costs, that’s worrisome,” said Kanealii Kleinfelder.
Last week, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard told the City Council that the state attorney general would be reimbursing HPD’s overtime costs for the Mauna Kea effort.
“My understanding is that all costs to the Big Island and other counties will be reimbursed by the State,” said Hawaii County Finance Director Deanna Sako.
Honolulu and Maui counties have not produced estimates of their costs yet.
“All of us as state and county taxpayers from whatever county you are in, we are all paying for this one way or another,” said Kanealii-Kleinfelder.