by Salman Hameed
Picture of protestors from Hawaii Tribune-Herald
Picture of protest from Hawaii Tribune-Herald
The Hawaii Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on top of Mauna Kea in late August. So it was surprising this Monday to hear about the resumption of construction of the telescope accompanied by this statement (you can read it as "we will say anything to have our telescope built on the mountain") by the Chairman of the TMT board, Henry Yang:
Our period of inactivity has made us a better organization in the long run," Yang said. "We are now comfortable that we can be better stewards and better neighbors during our temporary and limited use of this precious land, which will allow us to explore the heavens and broaden the boundaries of science in the interest of humanity.This is a long standing issue. And to be fair to TMT, it also has held over two dozen hearings over the past 5 years. But to say that they have learnt to be "better stewards" over the past two months sounds disingenuous. In any case, the construction was supposed to start yesterday (Wednesday) but about 300 protestors blocked the access road and 12 people were arrested as a result:
Mauna Kea Access Road remained closed Wednesday evening after opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope again halted construction of the $1.4 billion observatory following a highly coordinated protest.
About 300 protesters used their bodies and large rocks to prevent construction crews from traveling more than a mile past the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, and about a dozen continued to block access above Hale Pohaku after the group claimed victory for the day.
Twelve arrests were made by Hawaii County police and state Department of Land and Natural Resources conservation officers. Some of the officers wore ti leaf lei given to them by protesters.
Mike McCartney, Gov. David Ige’s chief of staff, said in a press release that construction of the state-of-the-art telescope will remain on hold until further notice. The project faced a nearly three-month timeout following arrests of 31 protesters April 2.
McCartney said the arrests Wednesday were unfortunate but acknowledged that protesters have a right to peacefully assemble. Ige was in Washington, D.C., for an energy forum.
“We are disappointed and concerned that large boulders were found in the roadway leading to the summit of Mauna Kea,” McCartney said. “This action is a serious and significant safety hazard and could put people at risk.
“Because of this, we are making an assessment to determine how to proceed.”
McCartney said the road will be cleared of obstructions today.
Dan Meisenzahl, a spokesman for University of Hawaii, which manages the Mauna Kea Access Road and Mauna Kea Science Reserve, said protesters later pushed aside boulders covering 2 miles of the access road but kept three rock walls in place about 3 miles past the visitor center.
The road above Hale Pohaku was officially closed Wednesday evening after TMT security staff and the remaining protesters came down, he said.
Reached by phone, protest organizer Kahookahi Kanuha, who was among those arrested, said he tried to put a stop to rocks being placed on the road when he received word about it.
“That’s a strategy for a different time,” he said.
Protesters had planned to avoid arrests until they reached the summit.
Kanuha said he was on his way back up the mountain after posting bail.Much like arrests in April, there are mixed emotions for Native Hawaiians on both sides of the debate. Look at this video of the protest and here is a statement from DLNR chief before the arrests:
The confrontation initially ended with an emotional statement from DLNR branch chief Lino Kamakau to the protesters.
“From myself, I apologize to you guys,” he said, his eyes full of tears and his voice cracking with emotion. “I hope you guys understand what I got to do. You may not accept it. I got to do my job. I’m really, really sorry. Our No. 1 thing right now is public safety, and we’re not going up (the mountain).”All of this is likely to continue at least in the short rum. Lets see how this standoff unfolds in the next couple of days.