After a seven-hour demonstration, Hawaii DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) agents just informed the hundreds of protesters on Mauna Kea that officers and TMT workers will turn around and no longer ask anyone to leave. No further arrests will be made today, they say.
Protesters began lining up early Wednesday morning to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the on the summit of Mauna Kea. A total of 11 people were arrested, and the TMT crews made it about 1.5 miles up the seven-mile road.
In all, more than 700 people gathered to stand in what they say is protection of a sacred Native Hawaiian space.
When it became clear that agents with the Department of Land and Natural Resources would no longer allow the protesters to assemble on the road, they took a new tactic to block the TMT construction workers. Someone began pulling rocks down from the side of the road, further restricting access.
There is only one road up the mountain and any interruption of traffic will affect the other observatories at the summit.
“We're going to scale back our operations a bit today,” said Rich Matsuda, director of operations and infrastructure for Keck Observatory. “It's what we normally do if the weather is bad at the summit.”
The larger observatories can operate with a handful of people each, or more than a dozen, depending on what work is being done that day. Most observatory employees work from nerve centers: Keck is headquartered in Waimea (Kamuela), for example, while the Gemini observatory has its operations center in Hilo.
Officials say work crews first intended on inspecting the telescope site and equipment, much of which has been there since protests began in March, before installing a fence around the designated construction zone.
The $1.4 billion dollar TMT project has been on hold for nearly three months when aloha aina advocates, who say they're protecting a culturally sacred site, blocked construction vehicles and workers from accessing the summit. 31 people were arrested and since then, non-violent protests have grown in size.
“We look forward to a positive relationship with all Hawaiians, while we understand that the majority of Hawai‘i's people are supporting the TMT project," said Henry Yang, Chair of the TMT International Observatory Board. "We deeply respect and are mindful of those who have concerns, and yet, we hope they will permit us to proceed with this important task while reserving their right to peaceful protest."
In April, in response to the demonstrations, the Thirty Meter Telescope team informed Governor David Ige that construction would be postponed until telescope board members, state officials and Native Hawaiian activists had an opportunity to discuss the issue. Late last month, Governor Ige announced that he had given his official support to the project.
He released this statement on Wednesday:
It is our belief that there will be mutual respect and aloha on Wednesday and in the days ahead as TMT restarts construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
TMT has the approvals needed to proceed with construction. We respect those who oppose the project and their right to peaceably assemble and to protest in an orderly and civil manner.
The State of Hawai'i's primary concern is the health and safety of its people. The state and Hawai'i County are working together to uphold the law and ensure safety on roadways and on Mauna Kea, while allowing the people their right to peacefully and lawfully protest.