Officials with one Mauna Kea tour company says it suffered a $50,000 loss in just one week after the road to the summit closed. It's been 14 days since state officials shut down access to the mountain -- citing safety concerns after protesters moved rocks and boulders onto the roadway, and it remains closed to the public and all commercial activity.
A day before the Board of Land and Natural Resources is set to decide whether to impose strict restrictions on access to Mauna Kea, the longest-standing commercial operator on the mountain is finally breaking its silence about how much the two week road closure, which began June 24, has already cost it.
"Since that time we have been generating about one-third of the revenue that we normally generate, but almost 100% of the same costs," explained Pat Wright, President and owner of Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, which has been offering sunset and stargazing tours for the last 32 years at a price tag of $212 per person.
"We roughly service about 10,000 people a year. It is definitely a highlight tour that people are very excited to come on and typically people book weeks in advance," described base operations manager Mike Sessions.
But company officials say that has changed dramatically since the road was deemed unsafe.
"As far as we know from having walked and inspected it and we've talked to multiple people who've driven up and down the road multiple times, there's no visible hazard of any kind and they haven't been warned of any hazards. So we believe that the premise that the road is closed because the protesters made it dangerous -- that premise is completely false," said Wright.
Sessions says he hiked and filmed a two and a half mile route of the road that was once covered with rocks and boulders by protesters, but is now clear.
"We feel the road is safe now. That this is an unnecessary closure and that it's basically a tactic to keep people off the mountain so that they can continue this construction of the TMT," said Sessions.
Company officials say the situation is especially frustrating because they've been told their fees cover the bulk of road maintanence costs, yet they're the ones being denied access while telescope employees can freely come and go.
"The two main attractions to our island is the volcano and Mauna Kea. If you take this away from us you're basically taking our lives away," said Tom Kuali'i, a professional photographer, who is also a road engineer.
"It's a well-maintained road and they have the equipment to do so. They are traveling -- the astronomers now or they're trucking water up there or even the grader that's grading that road -- that's heavy equipment. From my experience, that road is well-maintained. I don't know what the problem is," said Kuali'i.
Wright says he suspects the state is taking advantage of the situation to further their attempts to limit access to the mountain to just the telescope community.
BLNR will vote Friday to establish a temporary emergency rule limiting access within one mile of the Mauna Kea Summit Road between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m; along with restricting camping gear on the mountain.
The proposed emergency rule can be reviewed online at: http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/…/files/2015/07/13-123-21.2-draft.pdf.
The proposed rule can also be reviewed in person at: DOFAW Office on O‘ahu at 1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 325, Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96813 or at the DOFAW Office on Hawai‘i Island at 19 E. Kawili Street, Hilo, Hawai‘i 96720 during regularly scheduled business hours.
The land board will meet July 10, 2015 at 9 a.m. at the Kalanimoku Building (1151 Punchbowl Street) in the Land Board Conference Room 132.