Telescope protesters appeal to Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees released a statement Saturday asking that the week-long moratorium of the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea be extended.

The statement says that “the Board plans to gain greater clarity on the pending legal cases relating to the TMT project. The Board will also review OHA’s past positions on these cases. With that information, the Board will consider its position on the matter at an upcoming board meeting.

“During the past week, OHA leaders have also been in discussions with state decision makers. In these talks, OHA leaders have emphasized the need for all parties to address the unresolved legal matters while the TMT construction moratorium remains in place.”

One day after calling for a temporary halt on construction atop Mauna Kea, Gov. David Ige paid a visit to those blocking the move to build the telescope.

Ige declined to comment on the reason for the trip. The people he met with greeted him and invited him to pray with them.

Construction of what will become the world’s largest telescope began last month and since then, the blockade has gained international attention from people calling for a stop to the project.

On Thursday morning, a handful of protesters appeared before the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

MANA, or Movement for Aloha no ka Aina, and concerned community members asked the Board of Trustees to rescind support for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Long-time activist Liko Martin voiced his concern for the mountain in song.

“If you continue to ignore the voice of the people, then that has its own set of consequences,” said De Mont R.D. Conner, manager for Hoomana Pono LLC. “So please, take us into consideration.”

KHON2 asked Ilima Long, a spokesperson for MANA, why all the attention was placed on this particular telescope.

“This is the line in the sand,” said Long. “This will be, I believe, the 14th telescope atop Mauna Kea and it will be bigger than all of the others combined… It will be 16 stories high, two stories into the ground and on nine acres.”

Long added that “it is also the culmination of years and years of feeling like we have no control over our own lands.”

A critical approval for the project came in May 2010, when the governor approved the Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

Gov. David Ige on Mauna Kea (Photo: Oiwi TV)
Gov. David Ige on Mauna Kea (Photo: Oiwi TV)

Another approval came a month later, when the Board of Regents for the University of Hawaii also gave their approval for the telescope atop Mauna Kea. The university manages the lease activity atop the mountain.

What followed was a series of public meetings and hearings, including a ruling by a Circuit Court judge that gave the go-ahead for the project.

Last July, the trustees voted to withdraw their request to participate in a contested case hearing against the University of Hawaii’s sublease on Mauna Kea for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

That withdrawal was sent in a letter to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which grants leases and subleases.

On Thursday, self-proclaimed “protectors” of the mountain called for the trustees to reconsider last year’s vote.

They also urged the board to provide financial and other forms of support to the Native Hawaiians who are protecting Mauna Kea, including a call to halt the arrests of peaceful protestors.

“OHA’s decision to support the TMT was made six years ago, there are a number of new trustees and opposition to the TMT is now reaching critical mass and resulting in the arrests of Native Hawaiians. It is time for (the) board to support its beneficiaries and take a position against the construction of what would be the 14th telescope on our sacred summit,” said MANA leader Jon Osorio.

The trustees have yet to decide whether to get involved, again, with the future of the project.

They say they may place the Thirty Meter Telescope project as an item on their agenda when the board is scheduled to meet again in a couple of weeks.

A land use expert told KHON2 that there is little opponents can do to legally stop the project.

“The processes are very complicated and it’s very easy to find a ground to attack,” said David Callies, a University of Hawaii law professor. “But it’s not easy to find one that’s going to win.”

Project opponents have turned to a couple of ways to attract world-wide attention as well as star power.

“Social media, Facebook, Instagram, and of course, star power with Jason Momoa and Nicole Scherzinger giving their support,” said Conner.

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