Showdown between TMT opponents and law enforcement avoided for now

Clash between TMT opponents & law enforcement avoided for now

MAUNA KEA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Earlier in the week, Thirty Meter Telescope opponents were preparing to face off Wednesday against hundreds of law enforcement officers.

But hours before the anticipated showdown, state Department of Land and Natural Resources agents who were scheduled to be on Mauna Kea to ensure TMT crews safe, unobstructed access to the construction site were told to stand down after the state Supreme Court temporarily prevented construction on the mountain until December 2.

TMT officials say they wanted for workers to complete maintenance and repairs on equipment that has sat idle since April, when construction crews were blocked by more than 750 protesters. Opponents of the project say it desecrates a sacred Native Hawaiian place.

At least two heavy-duty machines at the construction are reportedly leaking oil and fuel, but Hawaii News Now has learned there are plans in place to ensure no hazardous materials are entering the soil.

While no work has been completed on the site, there are private security guards who conduct round-the-clock patrols -- complete with body cameras.

For now, they're keeping an eye on cultural practitioners who duck under "No Trespassing" signs to get to the 'ahu or altars that were built on the site -- and who maintain the mountain is a sacred place that needs to be protected.

"We still will stand. We'll stand to the very last end. I give my life for this stand," said Billy Freitas, an aloha 'aina advocate who protests what he calls any further desecration of Mauna Kea.

Their determination and pledge to maintain "kapu aloha," which demands everyone be treated with compassion and respect, has been tested before -– but even TMT opposition organizers say they were concerned about the show of force they were expecting Wednesday.

"They were just going to grab, speak once, to tell you you've got a second to move and if not they're arresting you -- and really it would have been a difficult thing to keep everybody emotionally centered and calm," said Lanakila Mangauil, an aloha 'aina advocate.

Lakea Trask, an aloha 'aina advocate, added: "We heard up to 250 officers were about to come. We saw dogs, we saw cement blocks, we saw lights -- so they were staging a big production here, and we were prepared with our pule and with our center being aligned with the mountain."

Instead, the showdown on Mauna Kea was put off for now. Protesters who had gathered on the mountain spent Wednesday showing their appreciation.

"We can use this time to strengthen ourselves and sharpen our mind, sharpen our spears so that we can become more enlightened, more educated so that we can more solidly stand on this foundation and say from multiple perspectives that this is wrong," said TMT opponent Kahookahi Kanuha.

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