Reimbursement for TMT-related expenses back on the table

  • Maile David

More than three months after rejecting a deal with the state to reimburse law enforcement costs relating to the months-long anti-Thirty Meter Telescope protests last year, the Hawaii County Council will discuss a new agreement next week.

An amended agreement, which will go before the full council on Wednesday, authorizes the state to reimburse the county $5,342,262 — the exact total of overtime and other expenses incurred by the Hawaii County Police Department and Mayor’s Office during a period of increased law enforcement presence on Daniel K. Inouye Highway in response to the TMT protests last year.

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A previous deal was proposed last year but was rejected in December. That deal would have reimbursed the county up to $10 million, but also included a condition that the agreement last for five years, during which time the usage of the remaining $4.7 million would be determined.

However, council members were displeased by the ambiguity of those terms, fearing that the $10 million came with strings that could force the county to provide security for TMT construction convoys or other projects. The council instead unanimously rejected that deal, forcing it to be rewritten.

The new deal now only requests reimbursement for the expenses already incurred, said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David, and does not appear to include the five-year condition, although it does include provisions for potential future reimbursements if further police overtime is required.

Currently, with Maunakea Access Road open, and with the protesters’ camp dismantled out of concern over the spread of COVID-19, police presence on the highway is at normal levels. However, the TMT project has not been officially abandoned, and the protesters have promised to return if attempts to resume construction are made.

David, head of the council’s Finance Committee, said she does not anticipate that this version of the deal will generate substantial controversy when it returns before the full council.

“This is coming back exactly the way we requested,” David said. “It shouldn’t be too controversial. It’s what we wanted.”

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The new deal will be discussed at a meeting of the council on Wednesday, although in order to comply with social distancing guidelines, the public will only be able to attend the meeting via live-stream and can submit written testimony.

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

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