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Protesters’ strength grew while governor dithered

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The Mauna Kea discussion has changed from where to put the $1.4 billion telescope, the world’s biggest, to “Who said you can bring Porta-Potties up the mountain?”

Gov. David Ige is a smart fellow, but I doubt he envisioned running a state government so flummoxed by a vocal and growing band of protesters who are fighting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea that even unlocking the bathrooms would become an issue.

TMT is to be one of the jewels of international astronomy as well as a major science achievement for the University of Hawaii, which runs both the program and the operations on top of the mountain.

Native Hawaiian protesters are steadfastly resisting any state attempts at compromise and have so far successfully blocked construction of the telescope.

This week, however, command over the bathrooms became the metaphor for sovereignty on the mountain.

Control of the mountain evolved into a skirmish over the state’s right to ban the protesters from having supporters haul the portable bathrooms up the mountain, according to a Hawaii News Now report.

Kona Lua was ordered by the state to get those porta-potties off the mountain or face $10,000-a-day fines. The bathrooms were open to both the protestors and tourists who braved the drive up the mountain.

Protesters said the state’s action would cause a health hazard.

Readers are left to speculate whether the Ige administration would be enduring such a festering political problem if it had acted as swiftly with the protestors as it did with Kona Lua.

Meanwhile this morning the state is readying emergency rules to stop the protestors from camping near the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources is expected Friday to act on the Ige administration request to forbid overnight camping. This comes because the protestors have been situated across from the visitor center since March and the summit road has been closed to the public since June 24.

“Boulders and rock walls have been placed on the road. Invasive species have been introduced. Unauthorized toilets have been placed on the grounds. Individuals remaining in the area have reportedly caused visitors and workers to feel harassed,” said Attorney General Douglas Chin.

“It’s a sad commentary, a sad response to kapu aloha (nonviolent protest) and aloha aina,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, leader of one of the protesting groups, Mauna Kea Hui.

When the demonstrations started, the Ige administration called for discussions with the protesters and the University of Hawaii, but Ige finally boiled it down to saying that “in many ways we have failed the mountain.”

“From a cultural perspective or from a natural resource perspective, we have not done right by a very special place and we must act immediately to change that,” Ige said back in May.

Ige then said he wanted to bring “cultural voices into the leadership structure” managing Mauna Kea, going so far as to say that “anyone going on the mountain must receive training in the cultural aspects of the mountain and how to be respectful to the cultural areas.”

Perhaps Ige and his administration would not be in the existing standoff if early on he told both protesters and TMT: “Mauna Kea is not your mountain, nor is it my mountain; it is our mountain and it will be shared.”

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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