Jurisdictional issues over Maunakea Access Road and who has authority to police it were at the forefront Friday, during several hours of testimony to the county Board of Ethics.
The board, after listening to dozens of testifiers, decided during a closed-door session to call in special counsel not affiliated with the county to help define the parameters of the board’s jurisdiction and authority. In the meantime, the creation of a resolution to conduct an investigatory hearing as to “why the rule of law is not being enforced” is on hold.
“It was interesting to hear all the perspectives from the community,” Chairman Rick Robinson said.
The perspectives were wide-ranging and didn’t easily fall into categories. A few testifiers addressed the pros and cons of allowing the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea, although Robinson had cautioned them in advance that this wasn’t the topic of discussion.
Some in the restless crowd filling the council chambers in Hilo grumbled, booed and spoke over testimony from those they disagreed with, and a few chanted “Time, time, time!” when they thought a speaker was exceeding the allotted three minutes.
“Your rule of law does not apply to me nor any Hawaiian on our homestead lands. … It’s an access road that belongs to us. … That road belongs to me, not any of you,” said Maxine Kahaulelio, one of the 38 kupuna arrested on the mountain last year. “The sad part is, we’re still in court being treated like criminals.”
The road was blocked from July 16 to Dec. 26 by protesters, who call themselves “kia‘i,” or “protectors,” opposed to construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea. The groups agreed to stand down, at least temporarily, while negotiations continue.
The kia‘i allowed some vehicles, such as those of maintenance workers, to proceed up the mountain. But tour groups and others weren’t allowed access. Protesters, who objected primarily on environmental and religious grounds, said the state closed the road first.
“The county of Hawaii, the state of Hawaii, lacks the authority to exert jurisdiction over this land,” said Hanalei Fergerstrom.
Lanny Sinkin agreed.
“I’m really puzzled about why we’re here and what is going on,” Sinkin said. “You have no authority over state officials. … The best advice I can offer to the Board of Ethics is to step back.”
Jim Albertini, another of the kupuna arrested for blocking the access road, spoke about decades of crimes committed under the cover of the rule of law. He said court cases are continuing in criminal and civil courts.
“Where has the Hawaii County Board of Ethics been on these violations of the rule of law?” Albertini asked.
Michael Nathaniel, a Native Hawaiian, recounted stories from his childhood of playing on the mountain and said he doesn’t think he should be blocked from going there now. He asked that the board investigate who has jurisdiction over the road.
“I was never told at any time that the mauna was considered sacred,” he said. “Elected officials have not been enforcing the law fairly and equally.”
Ryan Thompson also asked that the Ethics Board take a stand. He said he went to the mountain Dec. 14 and was turned away by the kia‘i.
“There should be equal protection of everyone’s rights,” Thompson said. “They did not protect my rights that day on Dec. 14. The equal protection of the law is a constitutional right we should all enjoy, but it seems that not everyone gets to enjoy that.”