MAUNA KEA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Thirty Meter Telescope insisted Thursday that it has no plans to pull out from building at Mauna Kea.
Hours earlier, activists protesting at the base of the summit reiterated their demand: They’ll only take down the human barricade if TMT decides to build someplace else.
Meanwhile, both sides held dueling rallies on multiple islands as the Big Island mayor’s struggled to formulate a response to an increasingly intractable conflict with no clear resolution in sight.
In a news conference Thursday, TMT protesters rejected a request from Mayor Harry Kim to clear the protest camp in exchange for a promise that construction on the telescope wouldn’t begin for now.
“We’re not interested in postponing this confrontation. I’m standing here today to reaffirm our commitment to protect Mauna Kea,” said Kahookahi Kanuha, one of the leaders of the protest. He added that it’s clear the "governor and mayor will not make the decision to send the TMT home. Only their board will make the decision to go to another location.”
Kanuha also renewed his call for TMT officials to move to an alternate site in the Canary Islands, and said protesters aren’t willing to budge from the mountain until they’re sure the telescope won’t be built in Hawaii. “We’re not willing to compromise. We’re ready for a prolonged struggle,” he said.
Earlier, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said he recognized the proposal would require a big leap of faith.
But on Thursday, he sought to walk back his statements and said he’s still hoping for a peaceful resolution but that his major focus is improving traffic on Saddle Road near the protest, and opening up the Mauna Kea Access Road to telescope employees.
Kim also said he has no authority to make any deals with TMT.
Thirty Meter Telescope supporters also sought to have their voices heard Thursday, with rallies at the state Capitol building and in Hilo.
Gordon Squires, vice president of external relations for TMT, told Hawaii News Now on Thursday that the “vast majority” of people are asking them to stay and “that’s what we’re committed to do.”
“We have a lot of support here and it may not seem that way on social media,” he said. “This is an unprecedented situation. We don’t have a timeframe before making any decisions (but) we are committed to Hawaii. It is important for us to get started as soon as possible.”
The protest at the base of Mauna Kea was in its 11th day Thursday.
Hundreds of activists have gathered there to block TMT construction equipment from getting to the planned site for the $1.4 billion, 18-story telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea.
Opponents of the telescope say Mauna Kea is sacred and mismanagement over the last 50 years has amounted to desecration. They’ve garnered international attention and support from some high-profile names, including A-list celebrity Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who visited the protest this week.
Meanwhile, astronomers say science at the summit has come to a halt because of the protesters blocking the only access road to the summit, impacting long-term and short-term studies, and creating stress for the Native Hawaiians who depend on the astronomy industry for their livelihood.
“With the emotions going on on the summit, it makes it difficult … to even function just in the community itself,” said Ivan Look, operation manager of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.
More than 500 employees work at the observatories at Mauna Kea, with about 50 to 75 of them at the summit on any given day.
This story will be updated.