Thirty Meter Telescope construction on hold again after Mauna Kea protests

The road to the summit of Mauna Kea is closed and Gov. David Ige’s chief of staff says construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope is on hold until further notice.

Construction was scheduled to resume Wednesday, but no vehicles were able to reach the site. Vehicles turned around and left after hundreds of protesters blocked their path on Mauna Kea.

Protests were staged at the 9,200-foot elevation for more than six hours in an attempt to stop the construction convoy from advancing.

“Roadblocks” were spaced roughly 100 yards apart so when authorities dispersed one group, another was ready to stop the vehicles.

Vehicles inched their way to the top as officers tried clearing the path. The protest started peacefully with only one protestor arrested by the Hawaii Police Department.

Ulises Consuegra, 44, of Kailua-Kona, was arrested on the county portion of Mauna Kea Access Road shortly after 11 a.m. He was charged with the petty misdemeanor offense of obstructing and released after posting $250 bail.

Ulises Consuegra
Ulises Consuegra

Once the standoff reached state territory however, officers meant business.

Lino Kamakau, branch chief officer with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, told protesters to clear the road or face arrest.

“I want this whole thing we’re doing right now to be as peaceful as possible,” he said to the crowd.

Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement officers arrested 11 people. They were transported to the Hawaii County Police Department, Hilo station for processing.

“They’re arresting their own people. We’re trying to protect the aina. I’m a haole, you can see I’m a haole, but I’m doing more to protect the aina than these Hawaiians that are here arresting the people,” said Big Island resident Bob Ernst.

Eventually, DLNR and protesters reached an agreement and construction vehicles headed down the mountain at around 1 p.m.

“I think the tactics really showcased the power of our people,” said Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo, a protestor from Maui who was arrested.

McCartney released the following statement Wednesday evening on behalf of the governor:

The arrests are unfortunate, but the state’s number one priority is the safety of the people on Mauna Kea – from TMT workers to protestors who are exercising their first amendment rights to peaceably assemble and protest in a civil manner.

We are disappointed and concerned that large boulders were found in the roadway leading to the summit of Mauna Kea. 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.

We will be working to clear the roadway tomorrow. Therefore, construction is on hold until further notice.

Photo: Naalehu Anthony
Photo: Naalehu Anthony

The University of Hawaii, which manages activity atop the mountain, says officials closed the road to the summit to clear rocks and walls that were constructed near the site, which are blocking vehicle access.

We’re told state crews will make sure people have cleared the summit before beginning to clear the road.

“If the state and university would just follow the law and their obligations, we wouldn’t have to be unnecessarily forced to risk our lives and freedom to protect something that the state is in charge of protecting,” said Kamahana Kealoha, head facilitator for Sacred Mauna Kea Hui.

Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, released the following statement:

“This is a difficult day for Hawaii and TMT. As we attempted to begin our work today, we were met by protests that regrettably resulted in some arrests. Boulders blocked our access to the construction site and the Department of Land and Natural Resources deemed it unsafe for us to proceed. For the safety of our team, we made the decision to bring them off the mountain and we are planning to resume when the issue is resolved.

“We want to thank the state and county police officers for protecting the safety of our team and the protesters and extend our gratitude to them, as well as to all of our supporters in Hawaii.

“We want to acknowledge and reach out to those who disagree with our project. We respect their views and, looking toward the future, we hope we can work together to find common ground.”

Dozens slept on Mauna Kea Tuesday night, many calling themselves the protectors of the mountain.

They gathered at Mauna Kea’s Hale Pohaku, the visitor center area, and many built ahu, or altars, at the site of the project.

“We are not standing against anyone or anything. We stand for the mauna,” said protester Pua Case.

Case reported a steady stream of people arriving, of all ages, Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians.

“To the best of our ability, with our highest intention we unify together to peacefully, but strongly and directly stand for not just for the mauna but for the mountain and all mountains,” said Case.

“We hope to accomplish the stopping of the intention of TMT to continue the desecration there. We want to block all machinery and people intent on any type of desecration or breaking of ground on the Mauna,” Kealoha said.

There were rumors that the Hawaii National Guard would be standing by as construction resumes. However, the Guard was quick to say that’s not true. Officials told us there have been no requests for any assistance and no request to be on standby.

Meanwhile, operations at Mauna Kea’s observatories were scaled back Wednesday. Many employees worked remotely.

Rich Matsuda, operations and infrastructure senior manager, W. M. Keck Observatory, released the following statement:

Maunakea Observatories’ staff members continue to have cordial and respectful interactions with the protectors as they travel up and down the mountain for their daily work on the telescopes. Out of respect for the situation’s complex nature, and to ensure the positive dialogue will continue, the Observatories will scale back operations on June 24, 2015. Safety for everyone on the mountain is our primary concern, and we will modify our schedules accordingly.

The TMT project has been years in the making.

In 2010, then-Gov. Linda Lingle approved the project’s environmental impact statement. Numerous public hearings followed.

Then in 2013, the Board of Land and Natural Resources issued a permit and, in 2014, approved a sublease for the site.

A ground blessing ceremony took place last October and construction began in March.

Kuuipo Freitas
Kuuipo Freitas

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