Protesters, attorney general address Mauna Kea as UH prepares to reopen summit road

The University of Hawaii says it hopes to reopen the road to Mauna Kea’s summit by next week.

It closed the road last week due to hazardous conditions, which included the presence of boulders on the road, rock walls that fully obstructed the road in some areas and the erection of two ahu in the road, all in protest of the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Protesters removed them by the end of the week, but the university’s Office of Mauna Kea Management said it needed to assess damage to the road and stability of the slopes for potential rock falls.

“The events of last week were unprecedented. We’ve been taking care of that road for decades. We have to grade it twice a week, the gravel portion, and a lot of the rock and boulders that were moved on to the road and have since been moved off, some of them were pried from the mountain side so… it’s going to take us a little longer to assess,” said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. “There’s also concerns of the hairpin turns in the area and just the overall quality of the road… It’s in rough shape.

“That very first hairpin turn, there’s some questions about erosion and a portion of that starting to get eaten away, so I think what we’re going to do if we get the okay is we’re going to move some of those rocks and use it to shore up that hairpin corner,” he added. “Those are the kind of things that are in play right now. I think the most important thing for people to realize about the road is that it has to be open for two-way traffic and it has to be safe.”

The news comes as state Attorney General Doug Chin released the following statement:

“We respect those who choose to exercise their First Amendment rights within the boundaries of the law. What the State cannot allow is for people to take the law into their own hands. Our courts are the proper place for people to seek legal remedies.

Mauna Kea is a protected conservation district, forest reserve and hunting area. While we appreciate the effort of volunteers who helped clean up the summit road, the actions of certain individuals in the past week led to the University of Hawaii’s closure of the road. Deliberately building a rock wall in the middle of a road without warning threatens public safety. Purposely placing boulders in a road could get someone killed. Commercial activities and camping in this protected area without a permit are against State regulations. This is not a statement against the content of the protest, but the conduct.

I am working with the Governor, the University of Hawaii, and the departments of land and natural resources and public safety and will take all lawful steps to see the road re-opened with safe access to all.”

Meanwhile dozens of protesters gathered in front of the King Kamehameha statue on Oahu to address the ongoing conflict Wednesday.

They said rocks placed on the road were not acts of vandalism, as stated by Gov. David Ige.

“This is undoubtedly a silly and irresponsible use of that word,” said protester Kahookahi Kanuha. “Vandalism is defined as an action involving deliberate destruction of, or damage to, public or private property. The only acts of vandalism I have seen on Mauna a Wakea have been committed by TMT themselves and ultimately the state of Hawaii, as they have chosen to enforce TMT’s so-called right to proceed with their desire to desecrate Mauna a Wakea.”

Protesters say they will continue to oppose construction and offered the following message:

“For TMT, there’s two things that are very important to them: time and money. We’re taking away their time and they’re losing money. One-point-four billion dollars is a lot of money, but it’s still $1.4 billion. It will run out eventually,” Kanuha said. “It’s a long process. We do not expect to beat them in one day, we don’t expect to beat them in one week, one month, maybe not one year… but again, our commitment to aloha aina, our commitment to protecting Mauna a Wakea, is far superior to any amount of money.”

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