As costs mount, Hawaii County pulls highway crossing guards from TMT protest site

Updated: Nov. 26, 2019 at 5:48 PM HST
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MAUNA KEA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thirty Meter Telescope supporters and opponents are increasingly bothered by the public cost of law enforcement on Mauna Kea.

After 135 days, it’s more than $11.6 million ― covered by state and county taxpayers.

But as the weeks pass and the temperatures drop, fewer protesters are gathering at the blockade.

And that’s prompted a change: Mayor Harry Kim says the county will no longer pay for private crossing guards near the camp.

With cars traveling at 60 mph along Daniel K. Inouye highway and police reporting near accidents, the private security was hired over the summer to keep motorists and pedestrians safe, Kim said.

But he told Hawaii News Now the last day for the county crossing guards will be Saturday because of the camp’s diminished numbers and rising expense at roughly $172,943 for the guards so far.

“Time has passed and now because of the numbers game, a decrease, we had discussion with the state, the police and everyone else that this is obviously expensive,” he said.

Those who consider themselves protectors of Mauna Kea say they can handle traffic control themselves. “I don’t think we are alarmed by it at all. I think we’ll go back to having our own kiai to make sure that people are crossing safely,” said Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a leader at the encampment.

The state Transportation Department, meanwhile, will still operate a solar-powered traffic light. It has an automatic timer and blinks when the battery runs out.

Reaction to the county’s decision to pull the crossing guards is mixed.

“Ultimately, it would be great if the kiai ― having made their point, having started the discussion ― would come down off the mountain so we wouldn’t have to have crossing guards at all,” said Sam King, executive director of Imua TMT.

"The whole thing has been disingenuous from the beginning. They (Hawaii County) do have to acknowledge that they have liability," said Juergen Canda, a retired Hawaii county police officer and TMT opponent.

Despite criticism, Kim says safety at the intersection is a priority regardless of political views.

“My exact words with Civil Defense yesterday is they are not protectors. Just pretend they are a bunch of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts camping up there," he said.

“Our responsibility is safety of them regardless of what they stand for and who they are.”

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