‘Our tax dollars’: Soaring costs to state for TMT protest draw concern

Published: Aug. 21, 2019 at 6:05 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers are raising major concerns about the rising costs for law enforcement and first responders at the site of the Thirty Meter Telescope protest on Mauna Kea.

On Wednesday, the Attorney General's Office confirmed it spent more than $600,000 last month on overtime for personnel, as well as transportation and equipment expenses for different agencies.

That now brings the total cost for the state to about $4.1 million, but Hawaii County officials say that doesn't even include their overtime costs for this month.

The Attorney General’s Office says its committed to reimbursing its county partners, but a letter sent Tuesday by Gov. David Ige rubbed some Big Island leaders the wrong way.

The letter says, “The state will abide by this agreement to support (Hawaii County Police Department’s) enforcement efforts so long as HCPD remains committed to maintaining control of the pertinent roadways.”

"The letter we got, which said that the reimbursement is conditional and it hinges on the continued support from Hawaii County, that bothered me," said Hawaii County Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder. "For no reason should we, the County of Hawaii, have to cover any of the costs included in this project."

Kanealii-Kleinfelder says the almost $3.3 million tab racked up by their county alone was shocking.

He says he's been to Mauna Kea and observed the peaceful protests, and he feels having a large police presence there is unjustified.

"Whether you're a county or state taxpayer, you should be very watchful of how much money is being spent because either way it's coming out of our tax dollars," said Kanealii-Kleinfelder.

Other councilmembers are on edge about their budget as they wait for the state to pay them back.

"We have very little cushion," said Hawaii County Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy.

“If we already accured $3.2 million in the span of two weeks, we can’t sustain that number beyond 60 days. We don’t have that kind of budget.”

Hawaii Police Chief Paul Ferreira says the county has reduced the number of officers on the mountain to about 20, and that all districts are back to regular staffing and shifts.

With costs soaring and no end to the conflict in sight, island leaders are worried about the impact to their limited resources.

"That money can go to so many other things and so many other needs in the County of Hawaii, whether it's our homeless or other services or law enforcement," said State Sen. Kai Kahele who represents Hilo.

Hawaii County’s finance director says she plans to submit bills to the Attorney General’s Office this week, but she’s unsure how long it will take the state to cut the checks.

It’s also unclear where the attorney general will get the money.

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