Mauna Kea summit road expected to remain closed until early next week

Mauna Kea summit road expected to remain closed til early next week

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thirty Meter Telescope protesters brought their fight from Mauna Kea to O'ahu Wednesday.

Five days after the road closed, they say they're not being included in any official conversation about plans to restore public access to the summit.

Addressing a crowd of around 250 people in front of the King Kamehameha statue Wednesday -- protesters, who say they're standing in protection of the mountain as a sacred place, responded to Governor Ige's support for TMT's 1.4 billion dollar project.

"It's a long process we don't expect to beat them in one day, one week, maybe even one year -- but again, our commitment to aloha 'aina and our commitment to protecting Mauna a Wakea is far superior to any amount of money," said Kahookahi Kanuha, an Aloha 'Aina advocate.

Wednesday afternoon, the governor re-affirmed his position that he is not considering calling in the National Guard to ensure safe public access to Mauna Kea.

For the first time Attorney General Doug Chin has weighed in, releasing a statement that said in part: "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."

Protesters say all obstructions were voluntarily cleared last week Friday, but the road remains closed.

"Any consideration of using the National Guard and that type of force would be irresponsible and unwarranted for. We are just as committed as anybody to public safety and to making sure that everybody is safe -- the only difference, I think in our stance, is that we also consider the mountain in that.  We consider the safety of the mountain as the utmost important as well," said Kahookahi.

Speaking on behalf of the Office of Mauna Kea management, University of Hawai'i officials say the road will likely remain closed until early next week because grading work has raised new safety concerns about numerous vehicles and two-wheel drive cars.

"We want to get that road open we will as soon as it's deemed safe.  In the meantime, essential personnel can go up there, but under certain conditions. Also the people who are driving up on that road right now, they have a lot of experience going up there they're very familiar with it.  They're in four-wheel drive vehicles.  Once again, it's essential personnel only people that have to get on the mountain to do work that absolutely has to be done," said Dan Meisenzahl, a University of Hawai'i spokesperson.

The Attorney General also addressed the issue of camping on the mountain Thursday -- saying anyone who is doing so without a permit is in violation of State regulations, but protestors who've been up there for the last 98 days say they were never camping.  Instead, they some people were staying overnight in their cars to hold vigil, but Tuesday they took down the large tent they were serving meals from.

The Visitor's Center also remains closed. UH officials say the facility was handling a capacity it was not intended to service.

"In 2003, there were about 100,000 visitors up to the visitors center and a lot of the reason for that was because you couldn't rent a car and drive up Saddle Road – but a lot of the recent improvements have led to close to 300,000 visitors a year. So we're already dealing with a situation where the facility wasn't big enough for the people that were coming up there, which is why we had brought Port-a-potties in -- this is all before the protesting started. The facility is basically overwhelmed and it became an issue or health and safety. Aside from the costs associated with the strain on resources, it just got to the point where we were unable to keep it open. This was the last thing we wanted to happen. We tried to hold out as long as we can," said Meisenzahl.

Officials locked up the bathroom and portable restrooms and also shut off water to the Visitor's Center, but say they've reached out to the visitor industry and posted signs along Saddle Road to inform the public.

In the meantime, protestors who call themselves Aloha 'Aina advocates brought in their own portable bathrooms and have opened them to everyone. Protesters say it has been very well-received by visitors.

"It makes me happy to see them in line and chanting Ku Kia'i Mauna, but it's a good outreach for us and we're showing that our stance and our issue at this time is only with TMT. We're not wishing to create any pilikia with anybody else -- including the tourists. Regardless of how we feel about access to the mountain and the numerous amount of tour buses that go up there, right now we're addressing TMT and we're going to take care of those visitors. The safety of the mountain is of utmost importance and if we don't have bathrooms for the hundreds of tourists that go up there - they gotta go somewhere and we don't want them doing that on the Mauna. So we provided that service," said Kanuha.

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.