In major deal, TMT protesters agree to temporarily clear Mauna Kea Access Road

Updated: Dec. 26, 2019 at 5:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thirty Meter Telescope protesters say they’ve agreed to move their “kupuna tent” from Mauna Kea Access Road until February under a deal with Hawaii County.

But they stressed they’re not leaving their encampment ― or the mountain.

In a news conference Thursday, protesters say they’re taking the step because they’ve received assurances that construction on the telescope will not proceed before the end of February.

"That's a huge difference for us. We've always been ordered off the mauna by government officials, but never really given an option," said TMT opponent Noe Noe Wong-Wilson.

That promise came in the form of a letter from Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, who wrote “no attempt will be made to move TMT construction equipment up the mountain for a minimum of two months.”

Moving the protesters’ tent to the side of the road will allow the county to officially reopen the road to the summit ― something the county said is slated to happen Saturday.

TMT opponents say they expect the county to start laying gravel to the side of the road Friday morning and the tent is expected to be moved by the afternoon.

“Under an agreement with the protectors, the clearing operation will involve the collaborative efforts of state and county agencies working together with the protectors,” Hawaii County said, in a news release.

"It wasn't easy. It's still not easy, but I will comply with the majority of the kupuna and do the best to help out," said TMT opponent Billy Freitas.

“I think once the decision has been made, we feel good,” said TMT opponent Marie Alohalani Brown.

Protesters have been blocking access to the summit since July to prevent Thirty Meter Telescope construction equipment from ascending the mountain.

Earlier this month, the governor and county pulled law enforcement from the base of the mountain, saying that TMT officials had no immediate plans to move forward with construction.

The TMT said it couldn’t proceed with construction because it wasn’t safe to do so.

“TMT is not prepared to move forward with construction on Maunakea anytime soon and no timeframe has been established,” said TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa.

In a statement, Mayor Kim said Mauna Kea Access Road will be closed temporarily to the public while the road is cleared except for cultural practitioners, telescope workers, ranchers and hunters.

The Mayor says the road will reopen to the general public on Saturday which coincides with the reopening of the Hale Pohaku Visitors Center.

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