HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As part of an hours-long operation that stretched from Kalaeloa to the North Shore, police arrested 55 people at two protest sites as they worked to clear a path for a convoy with giant turbines destined for a planned wind farm in Kahuku.
The convoy forced the closure of several major thoroughfares, snarling traffic for thousands.
Exacerbating the situation: Crews had to respond to a utility pole that had been cut down on Kamehameha Highway near Turtle Bay. Police said the pole was intentionally brought down in an attempt to block the wind farm convoy from getting to its destination.
Kamehameha Highway has since reopened near the Kahuku project site, but remains contraflowed near where the pole was cut down.
Police Chief Susan Ballard called the damage to the pole “reckless” and “dangerous.” The downed pole covered both lanes of the highway, and cut power to more than 1,000 people on Oahu’s North Shore.
“Unlike the protesters who peacefully demonstrated, this act of vandalism was dangerous, selfish and a total disregard of public safety,” Ballard said.
HECO President and CEO Alan Oshima added that cutting a utility pole is “extremely dangerous and we’re lucky no one was killed or seriously hurt.”
Leaders of the wind farm protest also condemned the property damage, saying that they had pledged to follow a policy of peaceful civil disobedience.
Following the arrests, they also said they would return to block future convoys from making it to the wind farm site.
“Today is not the end. We’re still going to be fighting,” said Kamalani Keliikuli, vice president of Ku Kiai Kahuku. “We just don’t want the turbines, and we want them to listen to us. We’re in it for the fight.”
The arrests started Thursday night in Kalaeloa, where hundreds gathered to try to stop the equipment from leaving a base yard for the North Shore.
At least 22 people were arrested in that protest.
Once the convoy got on the move early Friday morning, hundreds more flocked to the entrance of the planned project in Kahuku. Dozens taped their arms together and sat in the road.
By 10:30 a.m., at least 30 more people had been arrested and the large load convoy was entering the construction site. Opponents who stood nearby held signs and shouted as the equipment arrived.
Some 237 police officers — on foot, by bike and in vehicles — responded to both protests. While tensions were high at the sites, the situation also remained peaceful.
Police said 16 women and six men were arrested in Kalaeloa between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. Friday for disobeying police officers. Thirty-nine more protesters were arrested in Kahuku.
All of the arrested protesters have posted $100 bail.
Inez Larson, one of the protesters arrested, said it was necessary to stand her ground.
“I just keep thinking to myself, the desecration of the land is enough and you know, I don’t want anyone watching this to be crying or upset,” Larson said. “We have to do this, the government has forced us to do this. They won’t listen to the people.”
The protests and convoy shut down the only way into and out of a number of North Shore communities for hours on Friday morning.
In addition to the downed utility pole closing Kamehameha Highway, hundreds of people were without power throughout the morning.
Officials with the World Surf League also said the WSL Hawaii Pro Junior at Turtle Bay has been put on hold because of the situation.
Thursday marked the second time this week that opponents of the project had attempted to prevent energy firm AES from moving parts for the wind farm from a West Oahu storage facility to the Kahuku work site.
The first blockade, which took place Sunday night, forced AES to cancel its plans to move the equipment.
Subsequent plans to move the equipment this week were also postponed.
The project has all the necessary approvals to move forward with the project, which calls for a wind farm with eight turbines. The wind farm is projected to produce 27 megawatts ― enough to power 16,000 homes.
Critics of the AES Na Pua Makani wind farm slated for Kahuku started gathering Sunday night, when the company had hoped to start sending heavy equipment and wind turbine parts to the North Shore.
Protesters say they don’t want to see any more wind turbines on the North Shore.
But AES says it’s jumped through all the necessary hoops to move forward with the project.
“We feel comfortable with the work that we’ve done with the comprehensive studies that we’ve done to ensure that we are building a project that is safe, secure, and is going to ultimately benefit the state and its long-term energy goals," said Mark Miller, AES chief operating officer.
This story will be updated.