Editor’s note: State Sen. Lorraine Inouye sent this letter Sunday to Gov. David Ige and state Attorney General Claire Conners.
As the state senator for Hawaii Island District 4 (North Hawaii), which includes Maunakea, I took an oath, along with our governor and every elected public official, to uphold the Constitution to serve and protect all of Hawaii.
Gov. Ige, it’s time.
We cannot pick and choose. Laws must be followed, all laws, all the time. Public trust requires bold leadership: Difficult decisions need to be made about Maunakea, its management, and how we address the needs of our host culture.
We have made significant progress improving the management in recent years. I thank everyone who fought to improve supervision of Maunakea. I also thank those who did the hard work, for example, to establish the College of Hawaiian Language at UH-Hilo and ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. These reflect progress. Certainly, there’s a great deal more to be done to recognize past wrongdoing and level the playing field for our Hawaiian community. Illegally blocking the public road to the top of Maunakea, however, does not help solve the challenges.
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. 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.
Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent for police, emergency services, Department of Land and Natural Resources’ employees and National Guard. There’s no end in sight, and it sucks resources from state and county agencies that are legally mandated to protect public safety, community health and well-being. This harms everyone.
We cannot be misled by statements that “we never blocked access” or are “now allowing access.” For those who don’t know the lay of the land, the only alternative to the main road up the mountain is an unimproved, part lava stretch of road that’s dangerous to protesters as well as whoever is in vehicles headed up or down from the mountain. Also, allowing protesters to determine who can and cannot access the mountain is malfeasance.
TMT has gone through unprecedented review. Hawaiian, cultural, archaeological, educational, recreational and environmental specialists were consulted at each step. TMT has committed to significant cultural and environmental protections and community benefits, and the process has been thoroughly reviewed and approved by the state Supreme Court. TMT deserves to build.
I also fully understand that in the past, management of beloved Maunakea was haphazard. I know, governor, that wasn’t on your watch. Frustration with the past does not justify blocking the public road to the top of the mountain. It’s civil disobedience.
I share the frustration about wanting to expedite removal of decommissioned telescopes, but an environmental assessment is mandatory. The old ‘scopes will come down when legally permitted. TMT must move forward now.
I’m not telling anyone to forget their concerns, to give up dreams of sovereignty for our Hawaiian community, or to give up wanting our own children to be the astronomers and engineers operating the telescopes. We cannot give up on expecting a better educational start and choices for all our children, and on ensuring affordable housing, health care and good paying jobs.
These are essential human rights issues that are pressing in Hawaii. But blocking the road, stopping TMT and shutting down astronomy will only impede these — and further divide our community. We already have acute economic disparity. This is not how to right past wrongs.
Make no mistake, our future — and our children’s future — is at stake.
Gov. Ige, I supported your election. I know you know right from wrong. I know you value education and science and believe all our children deserve a better future. I also know you know nothing good comes easy. We need you now to protect all of us with your leadership.
Sen. Lorraine Inouye is a Hawaii Island state senator of 15 years, a former county mayor, County Council member, planning commissioner and currently chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and is the majority whip.