Lawmaker Inouye asks Gov. Ige to uphold law in TMT standoff

  • An artist's rendering of TMT against a backdrop of other Maunakea telescopes.

Hilo Sen. Lorraine Inouye urged Gov. David Ige in a letter to uphold the law and move forward with the Thirty Meter Telescope project despite the current standoff on Maunakea Access Road.

The letter, which on Sunday was delivered to Ige’s office and the Tribune-Herald, makes a clear stance in support of the TMT project and states that the demonstrators who have caused the current standoff are breaking the law.

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“We cannot pick and choose,” the letter read. “Laws must be followed, all laws, all the time. Public trust requires bold leadership: Difficult decisions need to be made about the Maunakea, its management, and how we address the needs of our host culture.”

This is currently the sixth week of the access road’s occupation by protesters, who oppose the construction of TMT because they believe Maunakea is sacred. While nearly 40 demonstrators — who call themselves “protectors” — were arrested within the first week of the occupation, the situation at the access road has remained in a state of equilibrium for weeks now, with both demonstrators and law enforcement settling into a nonconfrontational routine.

Ige had previously issued an emergency proclamation regarding the protests on July 17, authorizing law enforcement to close more areas surrounding the access road. That proclamation was rescinded two weeks later, when the deadline to begin TMT construction was pushed back to 2021.

“If I block the road into Waipi‘o Valley (which I wouldn’t do), and refused to move, I would be arrested, hauled to court, fined or jailed,” the letter continued. “But, if I say I am a ‘protector’ and block the (Daniel K. Inouye Highway) or the public road to the top the mountain, I can, at this moment, do it without repercussion. That’s wrong. It opposes our rule of law.”

Her entire letter is published in today’s Commentary section.

Inouye is not the first state legislator on the island to publicly support one side or another in the TMT issue.

Sen. Kai Kahele has previously visited with demonstrators multiple times and has said he opposes the project in its current form.

“You know, there’s been enough development on the summit of Maunakea, and there’s absolutely no reason to bulldoze and excavate an area of Maunakea that has never been disrupted and disturbed in the history of our planet,” Kahele said in July. “Once you do that, you will never be able to restore that to its original condition.”

While other lawmakers have not been as vocal as Inouye or Kahele, many windward legislators were willing to clarify their own positions Monday.

Rep. Richard Onishi said Monday that he has “always supported TMT,” explaining that the project has the legal right to proceed.

“There’s some things that are in play that have to be worked out,” Onishi conceded, but he added that he expects the state administration to enforce the law.

“I would hope for a speedy, nonviolent resolution to this, and a compromise between all parties,” Onishi said.

Rep. Chris Todd of Hilo said he wants astronomy to still have a future on Hawaii Island, “but not at the cost of arresting potentially hundreds of people.”

“I got involved in politics to break the cycle of poverty, and I view astronomy as a powerful tool to do that,” Todd said, explaining that the demonstrators at the access road, many of whom are friends of Todd, are simultaneously inspiring while also setting a possibly worrying precedent wherein projects can be disrupted with little or no consequence.

Puna Rep. Joy San Buenaventura said Monday that she has chosen to remain neutral on the issue for the time being, because she currently is not in a position to influence the outcome of the issue.

“If I had any say in telling (Ige) to uphold the law, or get TMT to move on to somewhere else, I would take a side,” San Buenaventura said.

San Buenaventura said she likely will have to make her stance on the issue known when the next legislative session begins next year.

Other Big Island lawmakers could not be reached Monday, although some have made public statements regarding the issue in the past.

Sen. Russell Ruderman was quoted by The Ka‘u Calendar as having written a now-deleted Facebook post in July saying, “My feeling has been that if its permits were found to be legal, then it should be built … I also support Hawaiian rights, and recognize the many broken promises they’ve endured in every arena, and the historic mismanagement of our beloved Mauna Kea.”

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Rep. Mark Nakashima, within whose district is the TMT site, has not explicitly stated his stance on the issue one way or another since the protests began on July 15.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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