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Protesters turn back Mauna Kea construction convoy

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    A protector is led away by Hilo Police after being arrested on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at the Maunakea Visitors Center in Hilo on Hawaii Island. Construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope is set to resume June 24 after a nearly two-month hiatus during clashes with opponents of the project who view the mountain as a sacred place.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Protector Gene Tamashiro embraces a Hilo police officer on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at the Maunakea Visitors Center in Hilo on Hawaii Island. Construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope is set to resume June 24 after a nearly two-month hiatus during clashes with opponents of the project who view the mountain as a sacred place.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    A protector gestures at a TMT vehicle on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at the Maunakea Visitors Center in Hilo on Hawaii Island. Construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope is set to resume June 24 after a nearly two-month hiatus during clashes with opponents of the project who view the mountain as a sacred place.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Protector Gene Tamashiro raises an inverted American flag on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at the Maunakea Visitors Center in Hilo on Hawaii Island. Construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope is set to resume June 24 after a nearly two-month hiatus during clashes with opponents of the project who view the mountain as a sacred place.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Protectors walk the crosswalk to bar TMT vehicles on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 at the Maunakea Visitors Center in Hilo on Hawaii Island. Construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope is set to resume June 24 after a nearly two-month hiatus during clashes with opponents of the project who view the mountain as a sacred place.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Hilo Police arrive at the Mauna Kea Visitors Center Wednesday morning.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Charles Dudoit, middle, is overcome with emotion Wednesday at the Maunakea Visitors Center.
  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Hilo Police arrive at the Mauna Kea Visitors Center Wednesday morning.
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MAUNA KEA » A caravan of construction vehicles that had been slowly making its way to Mauna Kea’s 13,000-foot summit Wednesday turned around and headed down the mountain after protesters covered the roadway with boulders at the 10,000-foot level.

After a state Department of Land and Natural Resources official announced the caravan’s descent at about 12:45 p.m., protesters began removing the boulders to clear a path for astronomers and staff working at observatories at the summit.

Hilo police arrested 11 people who refused to leave the road leading to the summit Wednesday morning.

Protesters opposed to the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope, who call themselves protectors of the mountain, blocked the road leading to the summit from the Mauna Kea Visitors Information Station at the 9,200 foot elevation, as construction workers in Goodfellow Brothers vehicles drove up.

The protesters, who number about 200, left the road when police asked them to, then regrouped further up the road.

The caravan came to an abrupt stop at the 10,000-foot level at about 12:30 p.m. because protesters had placed boulders in the road, blocking the vehicles.

Andre Perez, a Hawaiian activist and teaching assistant at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was among the protesters arrested at about 11:30 a.m.

"We have a human right to control our land. This is not American land," Perez said as police took him away.

The first arrest happened at 8:39 a.m. and police arrested more people as the protest moved up the mountain.

The last time protesters clashed with police was April 2, when 31 protesters were arrested for trying to block TMT crews from reaching the summit.

The $1.4 billion telescope has been on hold since that day. TMT and state officials, including Gov. David Ige, unsuccessfully searched for a compromise that would allow the project to go forward without resistance.

Protesters have maintained an outpost near the Mauna Kea visitor center, which is about 8 miles away from the construction site.

Kahoohaki Kanuha, a protest leader who was the last person arrested Wednesday, said activists blocked the crew’s vehicles at 9,200 foot level of the mountain in a peaceful effort to prevent construction from resuming on sacred land. 

Hawaii County police and officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources monitored the protest.

Earlier in the day, Kanuha said, “Everything is going well so far” except that a police officer accidentally ran over an activist’s foot. 

Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares said he had not heard about the accident. “Our goal for today is safety,” he said. “Safety for everyone involved.” 

A group of protesters has been camping near the mountain’s visitor center, sleeping in vehicles or on cots under a tent and braving weather that’s chilly for Hawaii standards — about 30 degrees at night. They made sure they had bail money ready in case they were arrested. 

Opponents say the project that will be 18 stories high will desecrate land that Native Hawaiians believe to be the home of deities. Some say it’s time to curb development on the mountain, where 13 other telescopes sit.

Astronomers revere the site because its summit at 13,796 feet is well above the clouds, and it provides a clear view of the sky for 300 days a year. There’s also very little air and light pollution.

The protests prompted Gov. David Ige to say Hawaii must do a better job of caring for the mountain. But Ige said Thirty Meter Telescope has a right to proceed with construction.

“The state and Hawaii County are working together to uphold the law and ensure safety on roadways and on Mauna Kea, while allowing the people their right to peacefully and lawfully protest,” the governor’s office said in a statement late Tuesday.

The nonprofit Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory LLC will build and operate the telescope. Its partners include India, China, Canada, Japan and the Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corp., formed by the University of California and the California Institute of Technology.

Partners would receive a share of observing time, along with University of Hawaii scientists.

The TMT Observatory Corp. has committed to paying a lease that will rise up to more than $1 million a year by 2024. Eighty percent of the lease money will go to the Office of Mauna Kea Management to safeguard the mountain and its cultural treasures, while the remaining 20 percent will go to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The plan Wednesday called for sending a crew of a few workers to the site for vehicle maintenance and to install safety fencing, Mike Bolte, a Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory board member, said in an email through a public relations firm.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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