Hawaii telescope protesters leave camp due to virus concerns

HONOLULU (AP) — Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope project on the Big Island have pulled out of their camp due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

The move came after more than eight months of nonviolent protests at the base of the Mauna Kea Access Road, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.

Construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes on Hawaii’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, has been stalled by project opponents who say the telescope will desecrate land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.

The large tents erected last year as a warehouse, kitchen and instructional area were removed and protest supporters were asked to leave, protest leader Andre Perez said Wednesday.

“Because of the concern for human health and safety, we’ve decided to leave,” Perez said. “We feel that there’s no imminent threat from TMT, that’s our assessment, and so human health and safety is paramount for us.”

Protesters posted videos on social media saying medical professionals advised them to reduce travel and “stay in our bubbles and remain home” until the coronavirus threat passes.

Protesters have successfully blocked the access road for more than five months. Law enforcement officials arrested 39 protesters on July 17 for obstructing the road during nonviolent demonstrations but never made another attempt to clear the road.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim pledged in December there would be no police effort to remove protesters from the mountain and convinced telescope opponents to move tents and other equipment off the road.

Construction has not advanced since then because protesters continued to camp near the road and hold demonstrations.

Perez does not expect the departure of protesters will prompt officials to restart the project in the near future, although no promises were made.

“We have not gotten any pledges or any confirmation or agreement with them at all,” Perez said.

He added: “We’re confident that they’re not going to move with TMT during this time of pandemic crisis.”

Elections officials seek current voter signature

The Maui News

Hawaii election officials have mailed a form to voters to get their signature for the state’s first all-mail elections this year.

The signature will be attached to the voter’s registration record.

“A voter’s signature sometimes changes over time, and we want to make sure we have their current signature to validate their ballot for the upcoming elections. We need voters to submit their signatures now, especially now during these uncertain times, to ensure their ballot can be counted,” said Scott Nago, chief election officer.

Each signature capture card is directly addressed to the voter. Voters should sign their card in the space provided using a black or blue pen, fold it so their signature is hidden and drop it back in the mail. The signature capture card is pre-addressed and postage-paid.

The primary election on Aug. 8 will be the first statewide election conducted by mail and no traditional polling places will be opened. Instead, registered voters will automatically receive a ballot 18 days prior to each election.

As voters return their ballots, they are required to sign the postage-paid return envelope for the county elections divisions to confirm their identity and validate for counting. This check is one of the ways election officials ensure the security and integrity of the elections.

Voters who do not receive a signature capture card should check their voter registration by visiting olvr.hawaii.gov or by calling the Office of Elections at (808) 453-VOTE (8683).

To view a sample of the signature capture card and to learn more about voting by mail, visit the Office of Elections website at elections.hawaii.gov.

Boyfriend arrested in killing of woman, infant

HONOLULU (AP) — Honolulu police arrested a man identified as a victim’s boyfriend in connection with the homicide of a 23-year-old woman and a 6-month-old boy.

Authorities arrested the 21-year-old man early Thursday in connection with the deaths in an apartment near Ewa Town Center, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The victims and the suspect were not immediately identified.

Patrol officers responded to a call of suspicious circumstances at a residence around 11:50 p.m Wednesday, Lt. Deena Thoemmes of the Honolulu Police Department Homicide Detail said.

A witness told police she visited to check on her friend and found the woman and an infant dead inside an apartment at the Sun Rise complex at Hanapouli Circle.

A preliminary investigation indicated the woman had at least one stab wound. The type of injuries the baby boy suffered remains under investigation.

Police issued an all-points bulletin on a suspect’s vehicle. Around the same time, officers from the Wahiawa Police Station responded to a two-vehicle collision on Kunia Road.

Two drivers involved in the crash sustained injuries and were transported to a hospital.

One of the drivers was identified as the suspect in the double-homicide and police arrested him at 3:25 a.m. on suspicion of first-degree murder, Thoemmes said.

Northbound lanes of Kunia Road were closed for eight hours due to the police investigation.

Stadium to house up to 1,500 unused rental cars

HONOLULU (AP) —The parking lot of a Honolulu stadium has become the temporary home for rental vehicles that have been idled following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

A stadium official said 1,000 to 1,500 vehicles are expected to be stored at Aloha Stadium, the state’s largest outdoor arena that has 6,000 parking stalls, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

“It’s what’s on the road versus what they can store,” Aloha Stadium Manager Scott Chan said.

Because of their limited parking capacity, representatives from a consortium of five rental car companies contacted stadium officials last week and the first vehicles were moved to the stadium’s lot Thursday, Chan said.

“They’re paying us,” Chan said. “We have administrative rules to enforce.”

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Hawaii’s incident commander for the state’s COVID-19 response, announced last week that sites were under consideration to serve as distribution points for toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other high demand items to relieve pressure on retailers and ensure that products reach senior citizens.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. But for the elderly and people with existing conditions, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority of those who are infected recover.

Chan believes this is the first time in Aloha Stadium’s 45-year history that the parking lot has been pressed into service to store rental vehicles.

“I don’t think it was ever necessary,” Chan said.

Cruise ship passengers bused to flights out of HNL

HONOLULU (AP) — Passengers from a cruise ship that was turned away by other ports began disembarking at a Honolulu harbor Monday to catch chartered flights home. The development came after Hawaii officials changed their minds several times about whether the 2,000 passengers on the Norwegian Jewel could set foot in the state.

There were no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Jewel, according to state and cruise line officials.

After complaints from Hawaii residents, including threats to block the ship from arriving, state officials changed course and said the ship could only stop to refuel and resupply.

On Sunday, as the ship headed to Honolulu, Hawaii officials announced that passengers would be allowed to disembark because the ship needed repairs.

The cruise line chartered flights to locations including, Sydney, London and Los Angeles, said Tim Sakahara, spokesman for Hawaii’s Department of Transportation.

Troubled cruise ship with 3,000 aboard docks in Honolulu

No confirmed cases of the coronavirus among passengers

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — A cruise ship that had to cut short its trip because of the coronavirus and mechanical problems docked Sunday in Honolulu’s harbor.

The Norwegian Jewel, which carried about 2,000 passengers, docked in the late afternoon, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The ship has problems with its propulsion, which will be repaired at Honolulu’s harbor, the Hawaii Department of Transportation said. The repairs to the ship must be made without passengers aboard, the department added.

“A detailed plan is being developed with Norwegian Cruise Line that keeps passengers isolated to avoid any potential strain on Hawaii’s resources, while also addressing the well-being of the cruise line passengers who have been at sea for a very long time,” said Jade Butay, director of the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

The ship had to cut short its 23-day cruise of Australia and French Polynesia because many ports were closed due to the coronavirus, the ship’s owner, Norwegian Cruise Line, said in a statement. The passengers last disembarked in Fiji on March 11, the transportation department said.

Charter flights have been arranged for ship passengers Monday and Tuesday from Honolulu to Los Angeles; Sydney; London; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Frankfurt, Germany, the company said.

“Because of the additional precautions we are taking in response to the COVID-19 crisis, it will take some time to transport these passengers safely to their chartered planes and we thank the public for its cooperation and understanding,” Butay said.

There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus among the ship’s 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members, the transportation department said.

On Thursday, the Norwegian Cruise Line said the Norwegian Jewel was turned away by Fiji and New Zealand. The ship had refueled in American Samoa but was not allowed to disembark at the Port of Pago Pago.

The Norwegian Cruise Line suspended the ship for all voyages from March 13 to April 11.

“Please know that we will continue to consult with The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to take action as necessary,” the company said in a statement. “Our business also relies on the availability and accessibility of ports around the world. As such, we will continue to monitor the situation and evaluate the feasibility of redeploying our ships as planned on April 12, 2020.”

Small businesses can apply for low-interest loans

The Maui News

Hawaii small businesses suffering financial losses from the impact of COVID-19 can file for low-interest working capital loans of up to $2 million from the Small Business Administration, Gov. David Ige announced Friday.

The SBA approved a certification request submitted by Ige, clearing the way for Hawaii small businesses to participate in the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Assistance Program. The loans can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll and other bills that can’t be paid because of a disaster’s impact.

Loan applicants are required to file the following documents:

• Loan application (SBA Form 5), completed and signed.

• Tax Information Authorization (IRS Form 4506-T), completed and signed by each applicant, each principal owning 20 percent or more of the applicant’s business, each general partner or managing member and any owner who has more than 50 percent ownership in an affiliate business. Affiliates include business parents, subsidiaries, and/or other businesses with common ownership or management.

• Complete copies, including all schedules, of the most recently filed federal income tax returns for the applicant business.

• Personal Financial Statement (SBA Form 413) completed, signed and dated by the applicant, each principal owning 20 percent or more of the applicant business and each general partner or managing member.

• Schedule of Liabilities with all fixed debts (SBA Form 2202).

Loan forms and additional information can be accessed online at the SBA’s Disaster Assistance Loan Portal at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

Interest rates for the loans are 3.75 percent for small businesses without credit available elsewhere. The interest rate for nonprofits is 2.75 percent. The SBA tries to make a decision on each application within 21 days.

Hawaii Dems scrap in-person voting plan

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Democratic party has scrapped plans for in-person voting during its party-run presidential primary on April 4 in favor of mailed ballots over concerns of the coronavirus, officials said Friday.

The party had always expected most members would vote by mail, and has already put two rounds of ballots in the mail. But the party had also planned to allow people to cast ballots at 21 voting sites on Election Day if they wanted. Voters would have been allowed to join the party that day.

Instead, the party will now send a third round of mailed ballots to everyone who newly registers to vote or joins the party by April 4.

The party won’t have the results until late May because it will need to mail the new round of ballots and wait to receive them after they have been filled out, said Kate Stanely, the interim chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

Two cruise ships not allowed to disembark in Honolulu


The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Two cruise ships won’t be allowed to disembark in Honolulu after being turned away by other ports, even with no positive cases of coronavirus on either vessel, officials said Wednesday.

State and cruise line officials previously said passengers would disembark at Honolulu Harbor. However, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who was running for president, said during a telephone town hall Wednesday that the state Department of Transportation “made the difficult, but correct, decision to only allow the Maasdam and Norwegian Jewel cruise vessels . . . to come into port solely to take on fuel and resupply, in Honolulu Harbor.”

The Maasdam, operated by Holland America Line, had its port call canceled in Hilo and is set to arrive today to Honolulu Harbor, state officials said. It has 842 guests and 542 crew members.

Norwegian Cruise Line said one of its vessels that was turned away by Fiji and New Zealand is expected to arrive to Honolulu on Sunday. The Norwegian Jewel, with about 1,700 passengers, refueled in American Samoa but was not allowed to disembark at the Port of Pago Pago.

The cruise lines didn’t immediately comment on Hawaii’s reversal.

New measures to seal borders to reduce the spread of the coronavirus have left some cruise ships stranded as local governments deny permission to disembark.

Two vessels were rerouted to Miami after they were turned away from their home port in Puerto Rico, even with no reports of infections. Authorities in Argentina, Chile and Brazil placed ships on quarantine after reports of positive coronavirus tests.

The Cruise Lines International Association said about 40 ships with 90,000 passengers were at sea when President Donald Trump announced a ban last week that restricts travel by many foreigners to the U.S.

Gabbard ends 2020 bid, throws support to Biden


The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard suspended her presidential campaign on Thursday, ending a long-shot effort that saw her feuding with Hillary Clinton and raising fears among Democrats that she would mount a third-party 2020 bid.

In an email and a video posted to Twitter, Gabbard offered her full support to former Vice President Joe Biden, saying “it’s clear that Democratic primary voters have chosen” him to take on President Donald Trump in November.

Gabbard currently serves as U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District which includes the county of Maui.

Noting their political differences, Gabbard said she respected Biden and had confidence in the motivations of his campaign effort.

“Although I may not agree with the vice president on every issue, I know that he has a good heart, and he’s motivated by his love for our country and the American people,” Gabbard said. “I’m confident that he will lead our country, guided by the spirit of aloha respect and compassion, and thus help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart.”

As the coronavirus outbreak continues, Gabbard, a military veteran and a major in the Army National Guard, said she would focus on her continued service, including military experience, should it be needed.

“I feel that the best way I can be of service at this time is to continue to work for the health and wellbeing of the people of Hawaii and our country in Congress, and to stand ready to serve in uniform should the Hawaii National Guard be activated,” said Gabbard, who served two tours of duty in the Middle East.

During her candidacy, Gabbard appeared often on Fox News Channel and angered fellow Democrats by voting “present” on the articles of impeachment against Trump.

Gabbard attracted a sizable following in New Hampshire, where she frequently campaigned ahead of the state’s February primary. Some past supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the state warmed to her campaign over time, and she espoused a similar outsider approach to Sanders’ 2016 run, which she supported.

She was also part of what once was a historically diverse Democratic field and the last of a half-dozen female candidates to depart the race. The 38-year-old American Samoan’s campaign website described her as “the first Hindu to run for president and first practicing Hindu in Congress.” And as one of the youngest candidates in the field, Gabbard outlasted senators and governors who came into the large Democratic primary race with higher profiles.

Although she failed to qualify for any stage past the fifth debate, in November, Gabbard was awarded two delegates once voting began, according to The Associated Press’ count, both in the March 2 contest in her native American Samoa.

Yet Gabbard’s 2020 campaign was also quick to attract questions from voters. The Hawaii congresswoman has faced backlash for her 2017 meeting in Syria with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government has been accused of chemical weapons attacks against its own citizens.

And with a primary challenge looming, she announced in October she would not run for reelection to her Hawaii congressional seat. Gabbard’s decision became public shortly after a public feud with Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. In a podcast interview, Clinton appeared to call her “the favorite of the Russians” and said she believed Republicans have “got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate.”

Gabbard responded by calling Clinton the “personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.” In January, she filed a defamation lawsuit against Clinton, saying Clinton’s comments were based on either her own imagination or “extremely dubious conspiracy theories” that any reasonable person would know to be “inherently and objectively unreliable.”

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said, “That’s ridiculous.”

As most of her Democratic House colleagues voted to impeach Trump in December, Gabbard chose to vote present on the two articles of impeachment. Former Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie called for Gabbard to resign over the vote and said she wasn’t doing her job representing Hawaii.

“Look, I did not take the easy vote,” Gabbard said after returning to the campaign trail. “I took the vote that I felt was in the best interest of our country and standing in the center to be able to bring the country together, to be able to begin this reconciliation that I think is so necessary in this terribly divided moment in our country.”

Questions over whether Gabbard would mount a third-party run in November’s general election continued following her feud with Clinton. Even as she was questioned for her present vote on the impeachment articles, Gabbard maintained that a third-party campaign was not something she was considering.

“Absolutely not,” Gabbard said in December 2019. “It’s not going to change. My decision won’t change, no matter how many times people say it, no matter how many times I get asked the question, it’s not changing. I’m running to be the Democratic nominee.”