MAUNA KEA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - TMT protesters say they’ve given workers at existing observatories atop Mauna Kea the green light to return to the summit, but the observatories say they haven’t hammered out any deal with the activists for access to facilities.
The situation adds another element of confusion in the ongoing conflict, which is now entering its third week. Shortly after the protest started at the base of Mauna Kea, all telescope employees were brought down from the summit for safety reasons. Since then, there have only been a few people who have been allowed to return to the summit to perform maintenance at existing telescopes.
And on Monday, the observatories said they still don’t have access to the summit.
“For regular operations, our observatories need safe, consistent access to our facilities for not only technicians, but all of our staff ― and our local contractors and vendors ― in order to keep our facilities functional,” said Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the East Asian Observatory.
“The Maunakea Observatories continue to support the efforts of state and county law enforcement to restore safe and reliable conditions on the Maunakea Access Road.”
The statement conflicts with what protesters said Sunday.
Thirty Meter Telescope critics for days said they would allow workers up Mauna Kea Access Road if Native Hawaiians and other activists were allowed to send one vehicle to the summit.
But on Sunday, Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu leader Kahookahi Kanuha told Hawaii News Now: “We guaranteed access to the technicians of the telescopes if in fact, we would be given access. Finally, after 11 days, we have gone back to that proposal and the state has accepted that deal."
“So from here on out, those who wish to perform maintenance on the telescopes will have unobstructed access to the mauna,” he added.
The standoff comes amid growing concern about maintenance of existing observatories atop Mauna Kea. Researchers also say they’ve lost a year’s worth of discovery, collectively, from the shutdown.
Meanwhile, there appears to be no end in sight to the protest.
On Sunday, University of Hawaii President David Lassner visited the protest camp.
He was greeted with a ceremony and was there for about 30 minutes to meet with kupuna. He didn’t say much to members of the media.
“I’m here to witness this place, to hear from people to get a sense of the spirit,” Lassner said, before proceeding to participate in protocol.
There were no outbursts by the large crowd as he walked to greet the elders and offer them blankets. “I came here because I wanted to see you," he told the crowd. "I wanted to feel your spirit. I wanted to witness for myself first hand what is happening here. And that’s important to me.”
There were several other distinguished guests who showed up at the site, including Jamaican reggae recording artist Damian Marley, who is the youngest son of reggae singer Bob Marley.
This story may be updated.