County working on new deal for state reimbursement for TMT-related costs

  • Aaron Chung
  • HARRY KIM

More than a month after the Hawaii County Council rejected a $10 million deal with the state to reimburse police costs related to the standoff at Maunakea Access Road, a new agreement has still not been finalized.

The county accrued more than $5 million in law enforcement expenses last year as county police monitored activity around the Daniel K. Inouye Highway during the protests against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea that closed Maunakea Access Road for five months.

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Although the access road is, for now, open to the public and the police have stepped back their Saddle Road enforcement, the state and counties together accumulated more than $8.3 million in expenses between July and October.

Those expenses were accrued with an understanding that the county would be reimbursed by the state, and Gov. David Ige promised the county as much and signed a memorandum agreeing to a deal in November. However, the County Council rejected the deal in December after the text of the deal had not been revealed to the council beforehand.

Since then, county officials have worked to amend the terms of the deal to make them more palatable, although that process has been murky at best.

“I’m not sure what form it’s going to take,” said council Chairman Aaron Chung. “I know it will be a resolution to accept something. I don’t know if that will be a new deal or just a grant.”

Chung said the new deal is being crafted by the county administration, not the council, so he doesn’t know what it will specifically entail. However, he guessed that the new agreement will reimburse the council only for the sum accrued — the previous deal was for $10 million, more than the total law enforcement costs.

The extra money, along with a condition requiring the county to enter a five-year agreement with the state to determine the usage of the funds, sat poorly with the council members, Chung said, who didn’t want to agree to terms and conditions they did not understand.

“If it’s an out-and-out reimbursement, I’d be comfortable with that,” Chung said. “Although I can’t speak for the other members.”

Mayor Harry Kim said that a new deal has been sent back to the state to be reviewed by the state attorney general.

“Now, this is going to be in the process of back to the attorney general’s office,” Kim said. “I did my homework — and by homework, I mean the preliminaries — and notified the governor that I’m going to make this change so if they had any comment on it. They had none, so everything should be OK. I’m obviously crossing my fingers.”

Kim said the new deal has revised the portion that required the five-year agreement, although to what extent that condition has been changed is unclear.

Once the deal has been reviewed by the state, Chung said he assumes it will be brought before a future council meeting as a resolution, where the council will once again be asked to vote on it. Whether the council will be able to review the deal before the meeting this time has yet to be seen.

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

Reporter John Burnett contributed to this article.

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