Two Hot Situations On The Big Island

Department of Land and Natural Resources officers arrest a protester on the road to the Thirty Meter Telescope site April 2 on the summit of Mauna Kea HAWAII TRIBUNE-HERALD, HOLLYN JOHNSON / AP PHOTO

Department of Land and Natural Resources officers arrest a protester on the road to the Thirty Meter Telescope site April 2 on the summit of Mauna Kea HAWAII TRIBUNE-HERALD, HOLLYN JOHNSON / AP PHOTO

HILO — I’m no seer who can divine the political and cultural will of the Big Island’s very diverse population of about 186,000 when the subjects of Mayor Billy Kenoi and that 30-meter telescope for Mauna Kea are the talk of the towns.

I do, however, have strong opinions, and there’s been no shortage of others’ opinions this past week while I was visiting the county seat.

Kenoi seems to be a Dead Politician Walking, and the telescope is a done deal because so many entities have put their millions into it on the basis of governmental approval that backing off now would mean the kind of lawsuits that might bankrupt this county and — via DLNR — the whole state.

A couple of citizens’ letters to Hawaii Tribune-Herald newspaper nicely sum up the two issues exactly the way I see them as a 52-year resident of Hawaii, a 60-year journalist and (I think) a man of some common sense.

Ray Chaikin of Waimea said of Kenoi: “If you elect to stay, you would have virtually no opportunity to serve the county in any meaningful way because you would be instead focused on defending yourself from a barrage of folks crying for impeachment.”

That’s hard to refute. I suspect an audit of every Kenoi expense while traveling will be extremely troubling to his constituency and maybe even criminal. And his past police record says he’s been a man of bad behavior problems — even as he has reconfigured himself as a smart, funny man of the people with a law degree.

But you practically have to be a condemned man on death row not to have a personal credit card these days. You have to be demented to use a government credit card to pay a huge bill at a club known for girls who drink “tea” with you at $20 a shot. Or to buy yourself a surfboard and a bike.

No, he’s permanently damaged goods. Depending on the audit results, he could be doing jail time. Whatever, he’s got his hands too full of personal crises to be trusted to give full attention to the many needs of this island with its distinctive geographic and demographic mixes.

The telescope is primarily a state issue, but the action is here atop Mauna Kea and so it becomes something a mayor cannot ignore.

I’m puzzled why the protesters waited to do their main telescope protesting after the build permits were issued and construction was starting instead of right at the outset when UH and the other participating universities asked for the OK to erect that 18-story colossus where it will glare in the sunset daily from the Kona side. The construction contracts have been let and the 30-meter mirror is well underway. The project cannot be stopped unless some court finds fault with the permission. That seems to be a long shot.

So while protest is the American way, blocking the access road is just plain illegal. Nobody here is licking their chops in anticipation of arrests, but there are limits to what any of us can do to signify displeasure with government actions.

The claim that Mauna Kea is sacred doesn’t carry much weight with those of us who like to study mythology but do not carry it as baggage into the 21st century. If I sink something into the ocean bottom, I do not give thought to the possibility of hurting Neptune. We shoot rockets into deep space without concern about invading the airspace of Zeus. The Pele legend makes for good storytelling, but doesn’t override the need for geothermal research and energy production on the edge of Kilauea.

Pahoa resident Harlan Hiltner has written the Tribune-Herald:

“What god or goddess would not want their children to learn more about the creation of which they are a part? In my view, every place is sacred, not just some special places because of their history.”

Mauna Kea is just a mountain. No more sacred than McKinley or Everest — although all may have special historical meaning to native people of their areas. Mauna Kea is beautiful, no doubt about that, and if I’d had my druthers I’d have liked it left so that we flatlanders could never see anything protruding at its summit. That could have been done by limiting telescopes and their placement. Somebody screwed up! That’s when we should have had all the heavy-handed protest.

But that’s another issue and one that’s so prevalent in Hawaii: the ruination of view planes.