Road to Mauna Kea closed while protesters remain

Closed until further notice.

That’s what University of Hawaii officials decided to do regarding the road that leads to Mauna Kea’s summit.

KHON2 News learned Thursday only observatory workers were allowed up, with about a hundred protesters remaining on the mountain. That’s a big difference from Wednesday, when many more gathered to protest the Thirty Meter Telescope project.

It was a quieter day on Mauna Kea with less activity, as protesters stopped to enjoy the moment. “Knowing that at least for today, no desecration was going to happen on Mauna Kea,” said protester Will Falk.

Photo courtesy University of Hawaii
Photo courtesy University of Hawaii

Two ahu remain on the mountain, but protesters did remove the boulders and rock walls around noon Thursday that were blocked construction crews on the road the previous day.

According to Mauna Kea’s self-proclaimed protectors, the rocks represent vessels of spirits of their kupuna. “It wasn’t so much a decision as an automatic responsibility that we have to keep those physical manifestations of our kupuna safe by removing them from the road,” said Kamahana Kealoha, head facilitator with the Sacred Mauna Kea Hui.

Hundreds showed up Wednesday protesting the $1.4 billion telescope project, saying they’re protecting sacred land.

Construction was halted, and the road and visitors center, closed.

“The road is now open to observatory personnel only,” said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. “It’s still not the safest condition, so we’re going to keep it closed in the interest of public safety.”

Officials do not know when the visitors’ center or the road will reopen, or when crews will be able to conduct grading on the road, which they do twice a week to ensure safety.

“The mountain is in constant motion and rocks will roll onto the road,” Meisenzahl said. “Dirt might slide onto the road, and we need to keep it for two-way traffic.”

“We’re able to take a breath for now, and revere in the sacredness, and also to look optimistically forward and strategize,” Kealoha said.

Officials representing the project say they’re assessing the situation and their plans to restart the project, but did not provide a timeline or a plan.

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