Telescope protest puts Hawaii County police $3M over budget

Telescope protest puts Hawaii County police $3M over budget
Honolulu police presence on Mauna Kea. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — The Hawaii Police Department has gone $3 million over budget primarily because of the necessity of an increased police presence near the site of demonstrations at the Mauna Kea Access Road, an official said.

Assistant Chief Samuel Thomas told the Hawaii County Police Commission of the budget overrun Friday, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Wednesday.

Demonstrators have blocked access to the summit of Mauna Kea to prevent construction of a giant telescope since July. Demonstrators have said the Thirty Meter Telescope could damage land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.

The department’s increased presence on Daniel K. Inouye Highway has required an increase in officer overtime payments, Thomas said.

The county has accrued more than $5 million in law enforcement expenses related to Mauna Kea demonstrations and increased traffic enforcement on the highway, Thomas said.

Thomas told commissioners the police budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, is just more than $70 million, adding that a budget meeting with the county Department of Finance is scheduled for January.

The state has spent about $15 million to provide safe access to the mountain, Democratic Gov. David Ige said earlier this month.

Ige signed a memorandum of understanding in November with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and state Attorney General Clare Connors agreeing to repay the county.

The Hawaii County Council unanimously rejected a $10 million reimbursement offer from the state to cover the cost of police enforcement near the access road.

The council disagreed with a condition that the county would enter a five-year agreement with the state to determine the use of the money, officials said.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.