Ige signs emergency rule restricting Mauna Kea access

Published: Jul. 14, 2015 at 7:44 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 14, 2015 at 8:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige signed the state's Board of Land and Natural Resources emergency rule Tuesday afternoon, further limiting access to Mauna Kea in an attempt to restore safety to the mountain following months of protests over the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project.

The 120-day emergency rule will restrict access at night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. to anyone not traveling in a vehicle and will prohibit camping on the mountain within 1 mile of the summit road at all times.

The emergency rule will go into effect as soon as it is filed with the Lt. Governor's office.

Gov. Ige released the following statement soon after signing the emergency rule: "My administration believes firmly in the right of free expression. At the same time we cannot let some people put others at risk of harm or property damage. This temporary rule helps strike that balance. I respectfully ask everyone using the road to exercise caution and obey the law."

Sources say Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement officers will be stationed on the mountain nightly between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. to ensure the public is aware of the new rule and abiding by it.

Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope project argue the rule was designed to criminalize their peaceful protest. Native Hawaiians say it violates their constitutional protected right to cultural and religious practice. Hunters have expressed concern the restrictions would prevent them from putting food on their tables.

State officials say the regulations are needed to ensure the safety of everyone who wishes to use the mountain. They say quick action was needed to regain order and safety after reported incidents of violence, harrassment and vandalism that had created an environment in which people did not feel safe enough to report to work on the mountain.

Last Friday, the board voted 5-2 to pass the emergency rule, citing "imminent peril to the public health or natural resources."

Mauna Kea summit access road reopened Monday, July 13 after closing on June 24 when 750 opponents of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope gathered to protest the project and block construction crews from reaching their site. The protesters, who say they're standing in protection of the mountain as a sacred Native Hawaiian place, successfully prevented TMT crews from reaching the summit -- but not without controversy. Rocks and boulders were moved onto the roadway and DLNR agents were forced to turn everyone around out of concern for public safety. Protesters voluntarily removed the rocks and boulders -- including two 'ahu or altars that were obstructing access -- the following day, however state officials kept the road closed for more than two weeks -- citing hazardous conditions caused by the movement of rocks along the steep and unpaved portion of the roadway.

TMT protesters have been staying overnight near the Visitor's Center for the last 111 days. The group, which calls itself Aloha 'Aina advocates, say they're holding vigil in defense of Mauna Kea as a culturally sacred and significant place and are prepared to block TMT workers from reaching their construction site on the summit.

Last week, state officials released activity logs filed by the Office of Mauna Kea Management Rangers and staff of the University of Hawai'i's Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center that detail a number of hostile incidents on the mountain which they say supports the need for the emergency rule. The incidents include a reported bomb threat on social media and other threats of violence against TMT workers, along with allegations of visitors and staff members being harrassed by protesters. Leadership of the TMT opposition group that has been staying on the mountain denies many of the accusations and described the logs as an inaccurate portrayal of the behavior of the vast majority of Aloha 'Aina advocates who have taken a pledge of kapu aloha that dictates they treat everyone -- even those with differing beliefs -- with respect and compassion.

After performing remedial work and grading for the last two weeks, the University of Hawai'i reopened the Mauna Kea summit road above Halepohaku to four-wheel drive vehicles only. Officials say two-wheel drive vehicles will not be allowed past the end of the paved road at Halepohaku. The Visitor Information Station and its restroom facilities remain closed.

More details as they develop on Hawaii News Now.

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