Tensions grow as TMT protesters continue to block access for telescope workers

Tensions grow as TMT protesters continue to block access for telescope workers

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Control of the only access road to the summit of Mauna Kea remains with protesters, putting those who work at existing observatories in a difficult position.

The summit road has been closed for 12 days now ― ever since Thirty Meter Telescope protesters created a blockade to prevent TMT construction equipment from ascending the mountain.

And telescope workers for existing observatories are caught in the middle.

Protesters won’t let them access their facilities without their permission.

Officials met at Big Island Mayor Harry Kim's office today to discuss the TMT conflict

“We’re not unreasonable. We have worked with these telescopes,” said Kahookahi Kanuha, one of the leaders of the protest at the base of Mauna Kea told Hawaii News Now earlier this week.

“All we’re asking is that they communicate with us. And when they have, we’ve worked it out.”

The activists, who call themselves protectors, have set up bamboo gate on a dirt track that leads to Mauna Kea Access Road to let state and county vehicles around the barricade that they’ve set up.

But limitations remain up for telescope employees. Two crews telescope technicians have been allowed up so far.

Doug Simons, director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, said observatories have to ask law enforcement to negotiate with the protesters.

“That’s a really difficult situation to put us in,” he said.

Simons praised law enforcement for their efforts, but says he’s frustrated that millions of dollars worth of equipment is at risk because regular and emergency maintenance can’t be performed.

“It’s just unacceptable that we’re not able to get up there when we need to, to address these things,” Simons said.

Meanwhile, a group of law enforcement leaders met in the mayor’s office Friday.

Big Island Police Chief Paul Ferreira said that he, along with several other agencies, will make the decision if or when to start escorting telescope workers up to the summit. But he gave no timeline.

Every day, there’s significant law enforcement presence above the TMT protesters’ blockade. They have regular discussions with the protesters with no obvious tension.

But the tension is building for the telescope workers, who are being forced to play by the rules the protesters are both creating and enforcing.

Kanuha says they’re simply asking for communication with the telescopes and they’ll let tech crews up.

But Simons said the observatories will not negotiate separately because they could inadvertently pit themselves against one another. The observatories ordered their crews down from the summit last week over the security and access concerns.

Copyright 2019 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.