With access to summit blocked, telescope operators abandon Mauna Kea summit

With access to summit blocked, telescope operators abandon Mauna Kea summit
A number of protesters blocking the Mauna Kea Access Road were arrested Wednesday morning. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The directors of existing telescopes at the summit of Mauna Kea evacuated their employees Tuesday as a growing protest against the construction of TMT blocked access to the mountain.

Jessica Dempsey, the deputy director for the East Asian Observatory, said the organizations that run the observatories made a “joint decision” to withdraw all employees as a safety precaution.

“Without guaranteed reliable access to the telescopes, the Maunakea Observatories will suspend all summit activities,” Dempsey said.

[READ MORE: Amid tears and chanting, dozens arrested at TMT protest on base of Mauna Kea]

The telescopes, Dempsey said, have millions of dollars of instrumentation that need constant maintenance.

"This is a risk for us to have to step away at this point,” she said. “This is not a decision we came to lightly, but want to emphasize the importance of safety for our staffs and the facilities.”

Protesters at Mauna Kea welcomed the news Tuesday, with an eruption of cheers and hugs.

“You can see the love, the kapu aloha on how everyone greeted each other,” said Maxine Kahaulelio, who was at the mountain Tuesday.

Though authorities said the closure of the observatories was indefinite, Dempsey said she was hopeful that telescope employees would be allowed to return to the summit soon.

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