BLNR approves emergency rules limiting access to Mauna Kea

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Following several hours of testimony, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved emergency rules limiting access to Mauna Kea.

The proposal would prohibit camping on the mountain and restrict access at night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

The rules were approved in a 5-2 vote, with board members Ulalia Woodside and James Gomes dissenting by saying "'a'ole."

The decision came after board members went behind closed doors to deliberate for more than an hour. More than 150 people signed up to testify, with most against the proposed rules. Several of those who remained after the decision yelled out their disappointment at the vote and vowed to return to the mountain.

At this point it's unclear exactly when the state will begin enforcing the rules.

Mauna Kea summit access road and the Visitor's Center has been closed since June 24, when 750 opponents of the controversial $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope gathered to protest the project and block construction crews from reaching their site. The protesters, who say they're standing in protection of the mountain as a sacred Native Hawaiian place, successfully prevented TMT crews from reaching the summit -- but not without controversy.

Rocks and boulders were moved onto the roadway and DLNR agents were forced to turn everyone around out of concern for public safety. Protesters voluntarily removed the rocks and boulders -- including two 'ahu or altars that were obstructing access -- the following day, however state officials have kept the road closed, citing hazardous conditions caused by the movement of rocks along the steep and unpaved portion of the roadway.

TMT protesters have been staying overnight near the Visitor's Center for the last 107 days. The group, which calls itself Aloha 'Aina advocates, say they're holding vigil in defense of Mauna Kea as a culturally sacred and significant place and are prepared to block TMT workers from reaching their construction site on the summit.

On Thursday, state officials released activity logs filed by the Office of Mauna Kea Management Rangers and staff of the University of Hawai'i's Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center that detail a number of hostile incidents on the mountain which they say supports the need for the proposed emergency rule. The incidents include a reported bomb threat and other threats of violence against TMT workers, along with allegations of visitors and staff members being harassed by protesters.

Leadership of the TMT opposition group that has been staying on the mountain denies many of the accusations and described the logs as an inaccurate portrayal of the behavior of the vast majority of Aloha 'Aina advocates who have taken a pledge of kapu aloha that dictates they treat everyone -- even those with differing beliefs -- with respect and compassion.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources is meeting at 1 p.m. Friday and could approve the emergency rule, reject it or adopt an amended version.  Emergency rules last four months.

More details as this story develops tonight on Hawaii News Now.

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