Protesters deny group of observatory technicians access to summit

Protesters deny group of observatory technicians access to summit
Thirty Meter Telescope protesters have blocked the access road to the summit for nine days. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Protesters at the base of Mauna Kea stopped a group of Gemini Observatory technicians from entering the access road to the summit Tuesday, even though law enforcement told the Office of Maunakea Management that the workers would be able to pass.

The incident happened about 7:45 a.m.

In a news release, Maunakea Observatories said the technicians were told without a public letter supporting activists’ demands of the state that access to the summit wouldn’t be approved.

The employees waited at the gate for about 45 minutes as members of the protest group hashed out whether they should be allowed to pass. At that point, the technicians elected to leave.

Officials said technicians were trying to access the Gemini Observatory in order to complete several key maintenance tasks and a facility inspection. The work would have taken about three hours.

“The Maunakea Observatories continue to support the efforts of state and county law enforcement to restore safe and reliable access to the access road,” the observatories said, in a statement.

Kahookahi Kanuha, among the leaders of the Thirty Meter Telescope protest, said that in return for allowing the telescope technicians to pass protesters have asked that a single vehicle be allowed to go up the mountain for religious and cultural practices. That request was denied, he said.

“We are not being unreasonable,” Kanuha said. “We have a roadblock and we are allowing people through. It is the roadblock that stands behind me that does not allow kanaka to go through.”

With access to the summit blocked, telescope operators abandoned the mountain last week Tuesday.

Observatory administrators say leaving the telescopes unattended is a concern because they need regular maintenance and a malfunction without immediate attention can prove costly.

This story will be updated.

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