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Tom Yamachika: Time for the Law to be Respected and the Collateral Damage to End

Thirty Meter Telescope artists rendition. TMT photo.
L eadership entails not only planning for possible obstructions to your chosen plan of action, but also having the resolve to follow through with your plan.

Sadly, this is not what was demonstrated on Mauna Kea.

Ever since the state issued its Notice to Proceed to the folks that are building the Thirty Meter Telescope, the state knew that there was going to be opposition and civil disobedience.  Its apparent plan was to have law-enforcement show up in force, not only with sheriffs, Department of Land and Natural Resources officers, and Big Island police, but also police from Oahu and Maui who were sent over for the occasion together with equipment such as helmets, long batons, and police vans.

It was going to be “shock and awe.”  Law-enforcement folks were thoroughly prepared, specially trained, and were ready.  They would give the protesters plenty of time to disperse and, if they did not, were prepared to sweep them all off to jail. 

Dawn broke on Monday, July 14.  Protesters gritted their teeth and braced for the worst.  And then?  The Governor caved. 

What then happened to the specially mobilized forces?  They flew home.  

All that preparation for shock and awe took place, and what were the results?  Bills.  The counties of Honolulu and Maui are going to send their bills to the attorney general, and they aren’t cheap.  Maui has racked up at least $68,000, and the Big Island spent more than $258,000.  Honolulu has yet to release its tally, but it sent roughly twice as many officers as Maui.

And, of course, there is other collateral damage that the protest inflicts daily. 

Staff in the other 13 telescopes already on the mountain were told to stay off the mountain.  But if they can’t get up there to maintain their instruments, they risk damaging the instruments, maybe permanently. 

New equipment unrelated to TMT, such as a $400,000 three-camera instrument named Namakanui that was intended for immediate delivery and installation at the summit, has to sit in a lab back in Hilo.  Researchers can work on it a little but really need to get it to the summit where weather conditions are much different from those at the sea-level lab.  In any event, that equipment can’t be installed on schedule and the whole world may have to wait for the results.

At the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, one UH astronomer was tracking the orbits of 30 space objects but now has to give up on that research because those objects are now lost.

The Keck Observatory contracted for a solar electric system.  It would normally require 60 days‘ work.  The contractor can’t start the job and was forced to lay people off

This is a real mess.

So who winds up paying for this mess?  Taxpayers, for one.  Someone needs to pay for the sheriffs, Land Department officers, and police. 

And how do you even start to quantify the costs of lost knowledge or discoveries? 

Enough of this foolishness!  The protesters have concerns about the sanctity of Mauna Kea?  Their argument may have made sense if TMT were the first telescope on the summit, but it’s the 14th.  We have a government, we set up a process for approving the construction that included getting input from stakeholders.  It took seven agonizing years for the process to play out, and it’s time for the law to be respected and for the collateral damage to end.  If the protesters want to negotiate about rent, disposition of the proceeds, or getting rid of the decommissioned telescopes, those may be good ideas, but why do we have to negotiate with them at all?  If they are hell-bent on stopping the telescope and are willing to go to jail for it, let’s give them their wish and haul them off.  

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About Tom Yamachika

Tom Yamachika
Tom Yamachika is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, a private, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to informing the taxpaying public about the finances of our state and local governments in Hawaii. Tom is also a tax attorney in solo practice and has been since early 2013. Prior to 2013, he was with the accounting firm Accuity LLP, which was formed in 2006 from the Honolulu office of Coopers & Lybrand (which later became PricewaterhouseCoopers). Before that, he served as an Administrative Rules Specialist in the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation from 1994 to 1996, where he drafted rules, interpretive releases, and legislation on several different state taxes. Prior to that, he practiced litigation and tax law with Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright in Honolulu.

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