The Hawaii County Police Department has spent more than $3 million in overtime costs as officers continue to monitor demonstrators blocking construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea Access Road.

On Tuesday, the Hawaii County Finance Department released a report of overtime costs from July 15 to July 31. The report included additional costs from other departments from July 15 to Aug. 19, which totaled more $173,000. This week, the county anticipates sending invoices to the Attorney General’s Office for reimbursement.

For five weeks, a large group of demonstrators, calling themselves the kia’i, or protectors, have camped out at the base of Mauna Kea Access Road and the intersection of Daniel K. Inouye Highway in an effort to halt construction of the TMT. Protesters believe Mauna Kea is sacred and the new telescope would further desecrate the mountain.

TMT Kupuna Arrests on Mauna Kea Access Road. July 17, 2019
Police officers from Hawaii County and other county and state agencies have been working over time to oversee the protest on Mauna Kea. In July, some arrests were made. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Hawaii County Finance Director Deanna Sako said she didn’t know how long it would take for the AG’s office to review the invoices or how long it would take for the county to be reimbursed.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said the state sent two letters to police and fire departments assuring they would be reimbursed.

Krishna Jayaram, the special assistant to the attorney general, confirmed Tuesday the state would reimburse overtime costs as well as the costs of food and water related to the TMT protest.

“HCPD is critical to ensuring that TMT may engage in lawfully permitted construction and we support them in this effort,” Jayaram said in an email.

Jayaram added that the state is also reimbursing costs to the Maui Police Department and the Honolulu Police Department, which also participated in policing the protests in July at Hawaii County’s request.

Jayaram couldn’t confirm costs for those departments.

Jayaram did confirm that the AG’s office incurred $166,000 in overtime costs for its personnel.

The AG’s office also incurred roughly $152,000 for equipment and supplies and $300,000 for transportation (air, vehicles, gas, etc.). Both those figures are spread out over multiple agencies.

Police continue to put in long hours monitoring Mauna Kea. From July 15 to July 31, officers worked more than 45,000 hours of overtime. Driving the length of Daniel K. Inouye Highway, officers can be seen at different locations throughout the 52-mile stretch from Kona to Hilo and recently began enforcing parking violations on the highway.

While officers have been pulled from their districts to assist in monitoring the events on Mauna Kea, Maj. Robert Wagner said there has been no change to service to the communities.

“We still have the same amount of officers working the beat,” he said. “All areas of the island are being covered — they were never not covered.”

While there are plans to reimburse the fire and police departments, the state has not committed to reimbursing for other county services used during this incident.

Civil Defense, Parks and Recreation and Public Works have all incurred overtime and other related costs in connection to the protest. Civil Defense has spent about $28,000; Parks and Rec, $2,500; and Public Works, $195.

The consortium of companies seeking to build the TMT has worked with the state for several years to construct the $1.4 billion telescope. Mauna Kea is currently home to 13 telescopes.

While groups have protested construction of telescopes in the past — including the TMT — Kim said there is nothing comparable to this event in how long it’s lasted and the number of people involved. The controversy has become a worldwide issue with celebrities and politicians standing in support of the protestors.

Gov. David Ige put Kim in charge of finding a peaceful resolution shortly after the protest started.

“We should all be joining hands to go forward and that’s my goal,” Kim told Civil Beat. “To move forward and make this a good thing. Not just Hawaii, but a global beacon of hope for the world. And that’s what I truly feel.”

The resolution to the standoff  includes the telescope but only if it’s done in the right way, Kim said.

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