At what point is it OK to violate rules, disregard regulations or even break the law?

The short answer is “never,” when it’s blocking a road, setting fire to construction equipment or cutting down a utility pole.

But civil disobedience is an essential part of our civil society. The right to peacefully assemble is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

These questions are raised not just because of the recent confrontations over the planned Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, the play field complex in Waimanalo and the wind farm in Kahuku.

The issue has come up many times in recent decades — during protests over the bombing of Kahoolawe, the evacuation of people in Kalama Valley and the building of H-3, to name three of the most prominent — and it will doubtless arise again.

But at some point a decision has to be made and held, whether by a court or a government panel or an agency or an official. That is what our laws, rules and regulations are for, and that is why we have a representative government.

Ku Kiai Kahuku, a protest group against a North Shore wind turbines project, demonstrated on the steps of the Public Utilities Commission in downtown Oahu on Sept. 11. Kuʻu Kauanoe/Civil Beat

Those dissatisfied with the outcome may keep on protesting or litigating. They can also vent their views at the ballot box or run for office themselves.

When all reasonable recourse and appeal has been tried, however, it’s time to accept the outcome and move on as best we can. If not, continued unlawful obstruction of approved projects could bring the state to a standstill.

That’s where we are regarding the building of TMT, something we are on record supporting. Hawaii County Mayor Kim has offered a plan that calls for construction while recognizing and addressing the history of injustice for Native Hawaiians — something that the protesters deserve credit for elevating to an international conversation.

Kim’s proposals are a good starting point that will require action from the Ige administration, the University of Hawaii and the state Legislature.

But respecting and upholding governmental processes concerns not just issues important to Native Hawaiians but to all of us who call Hawaii home. They include long-standing controversies that are still with us today such as what to do with flooding of the Ala Wai Canal, the old and crowded Oahu Community Correctional Center, fuel storage on top of an aquifer at Red Hill and the oft-extended landfill on the Leeward Coast.

There are also newer important developments to contend with. As Civil Beat reported last week, planned large-scale green-energy projects to help Hawaii transition to a renewable tomorrow could draw major opposition.

Each case must prove its merit, and the supporters of developments must be open with and responsive to potentially affected communities.

But we can’t simply abandon worthwhile projects that successfully advance through legal and bureaucratic processes — ones that require careful environmental assessments and extensive public hearings, not to mention significant financial commitment on the part of the developers. If evidence of harm to the environment, animals and humans emerges, it must be taken seriously in any decision making.

We understand the lack of trust in government at all levels. We value the diversity of discussion and the airing of views. It’s part of the process we don’t wish to see unduly impeded. And the recent disputes make clear that our government needs to more closely examine the underlying issues that lead to these confrontations.

Sometimes controversial endeavors die largely of their own accord, as seen with Hawaii Superferry. Sometimes they prevail after decades of wrangling, as seen with the Koa Ridge master-planned community in central Oahu.

And sometimes we must let the process continue to play out, as seen with Honolulu rail.

But flagrant lawlessness to subvert that process is unacceptable. When it happens, law enforcement must intervene, as authorities rightly did in Kalaeloa and Kahuku — and as may be necessary on the mauna.

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