HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor on Tuesday withdrew an emergency proclamation for Mauna Kea, and announced the state had given the Thirty Meter Telescope an additional two years to start construction under an existing permit.
He said the state of emergency ― which drew widespread criticism from protesters and legal experts ― was lifted because there are “no immediate plans to move heavy equipment up the mountain.”
“We continue to seek and find a peaceful solution to move this project forward," Gov David Ige said, at a news conference. “For the safety of all involved, we do believe we want to deescalate things.”
Meanwhile, protesters said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the governor’s decision to withdraw the emergency declaration “reaffirms our resolve.”
“Governor Ige has admitted that he underestimated our strength, unity, and broad public support,” the statement said. “Our numbers continue to grow and his ability to oppose his own people is increasingly becoming less and less justifiable. Ige’s rescinding of the emergency proclamation illustrates how he can no longer claim that we are threatening public safety. We are the public.”
The statements came on the 16th day of a protest at the base of Mauna Kea, where activists have blocked the only access road the summit so that TMT construction equipment cannot pass, and as the state is tracking two hurricanes in the Pacific that could impact the state.
Ige said he’s hopeful protesters clear out ahead of the storms.
“We have concerns with the coming storms,” he said. “We are monitoring the approach of the storms and we will be taking appropriate action.”
Kahookahi Kanuha, a leader of the TMT protest, said he and others are tracking the hurricanes closely and will take all necessary precautions.
“We do have plans in place and we are implementing them as a speak and if necessary we are willing and ready to evacuate this area to ensure the safety of all of the people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ige added that while the permit extension gives TMT more breathing room, it doesn’t mean that the state won’t be working to “secure access” to the summit in the meantime.
And TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa said the two-year extension was requested “out of an abundance of caution.”
“We continue to support the ongoing conversations around those issues that are larger than TMT and Maunakea. At the same time, it is important for us to get started as soon as possible,” Ishikawa said.
Protesters called the extension a “stall tactic."
“Governor Ige has been forced to lean on this tactic because he understands we are not stepping away from this struggle,” they said, in their statement.
Opponents of the $1.4 billion telescope say it will further desecrate a mountain they consider sacred. Supporters say it will bring jobs and push the science of astronomy significant forward.
As the protest drags on, Thirty Meter Telescope officials have said repeatedly that they’re still committed to moving forward with the project.
Protesters have urged TMT to move to its back-up site in the Canary Islands.
Earlier this month, after making no progress, the governor gave Big Island Mayor Harry Kim broad authority over the state’s response to the conflict and said Kim was “taking the lead” in the push to find a solution.
Separately, Kumu Hula Paul Neves is suing the state over religious access and told Hawaii News Now he visited the summit with eleven others in a van on Monday.
“Because of the situation, the heightened situation, this was the most difficult one. I never found it difficult going up there. This was difficult because there never was a permission ever had to be given,” said Neves.
Late Tuesday afternoon, because the emergency proclamation was withdrawn, the state asked a panel of circuit judges to throw out Neves’ case. The judges said they want to keep the case alive, but on hold in case the Governor issues a new emergency order that prevents religious visits to the summit.
“TMT is still waiting to go up the mountain, they’ve been given another two years, and the protectors are saying hell no," said Judge Edward Kubo.
“It just takes a stroke of a pen to have this whole situation repeat itself," Judge Paul Wong said.