HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - State crews used heavy machinery Friday morning to dismantle an elaborate unpermitted structure that was erected at the base of Mauna Kea earlier this week to house what its builders claimed would be a library and learning center for children.
Two men were arrested for interfering with the operation, state Attorney General Clare Connors said.
In a mid-morning news conference, Gov. David Ige said the structure was removed because it posed “health, safety and environmental concerns" and added that efforts continue to find a peaceful resolution to the months-long protest of the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea.
“We continue to believe and work toward a solution that is agreeable to all," he said.
"The TMT project is lawfully permitted. This unlawful behavior on the part of the protesters will not be allowed to continue forever.”
But Ige, who has not spoken publicly about the protest for weeks, offered no new details on what the government intends to do to end the 54-day-old blockade on Mauna Kea Access Road, the only way for TMT construction equipment to get to the summit.
The wooden structure taken down Friday morning looked like a tiny home and was on the Puu Huluhulu side of the protest camp. It had two Hawaiian flags on it, one of which officials said was nailed to the door and another that had been placed on a pole on the roof.
Ed Sniffen, of the state Department of Transportation, said the flag on the doorway had to be cut because law enforcement needed to get through the door to ensure no one was inside. He said the windows were blacked out and cutting the flag was the only way to get into the structure.
The decision to cut the flag quickly angered protesters, some of whom said it amounted to desecration. Others also expressed frustration over the state’s decision to swiftly move in and remove the structure.
“The first thing that they did was slice that the Hawaiian flag right in half and that served only to agitate and escalate the emotions of the people who were there,” said protest leader Andres Perez.
In an emailed statement, OHA Chairwoman Colette Machado and others with the agency said the structure’s removal “brings into sharp focus the longstanding and particularly abhorrent double standard the state uses to enforce land use laws against Native Hawaiians as opposed to others.”
But others noted that they didn’t support the decision to erect the structure.
Noenoe Wong-Wilson, one of the protest’s leader, said the builders of the structure had been urged to reconsider putting it up. “We had asked ... for the builder not to do this,” she told Hawaii News Now.
“We’ve been trying very hard to keep a very minimal footprint here.”
After the structure went up earlier this week, Hawaii County officials called it illegal said property owner Department of Hawaiian Homelands (and not protesters) could face fines if it wasn’t taken down.
DHHL, as a result, made the decision to remove the structure and asked Department of Transportation crews to do so, an operation that was executed Friday morning.
State law enforcement crews with the Department of Land and Natural Resources arrived on scene at around 8:40 a.m. and surrounded the home, according to witnesses there at the time.
Heavy machinery arrived at the camp around 9:30 a.m., and around 30 minutes later the structure was leveled. Video of the operation that was livestreamed on social media showed a crowd of people watching the building come down, some shouting out as equipment tore through it.
Once the building had been leveled, work crews began to move in with tools to complete the process so that the pieces could be removed from the site.
This story will be updated.