UPDATE: 6:15 p.m.
State crews installed a gate at the entry of Mauna Kea Access Road this afternoon but then started taking it down after negotiating with the protest leaders.
The action happened after most of the protesters had retreated into the Puu Huluhulu refuge elated with victory over the chained protesters being freed and not arrested by law enforcement.
The posts for the gate were already in place on the mountain side of the cattle guard where the activists were locked up.
The state last week announced the road would be closed.
The gate installation was accomplished in full view, but then many of the activists reassembled on the road and started negotiating with government officials.
MAUNA KEA >> Seven activists who chained themselves to a cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road to block construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope were told they were free to go this afternoon after an hours-long standoff with police.
The seven were supposed to be placed under arrest. But Kaleikoa Kaeo, who had been chained next to longtime Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte Jr., said officials with the state Attorney General’s office told the seven that they were free to leave this afternoon.
An “extraction team” that was supposed to come to the site to cut up the cattle guard so that the protesters could be removed, Kaeo said, but the decision to drop the effort to arrest them was made “due to issues concerning health and safety, and our safety also.”
“The material including welding machines would also put us in danger, so they decided in the best interest of time, they just not going to arrest us, so we are free to go,” he said in an interview at about 2 p.m. “They were supposed to have been here about four hours ago.”
The seven then freed themselves, and were warmly embraced by their fellow protesters.
MAUNA KEA >> Activists opposing the Thirty Meter Telescope agreed to clear the bottom section of Mauna Kea Access Road this morning to allow an “extraction team” to reach a spot further up the road where protesters have chained themselves to a cattle guard, according to one of the group’s leaders.
However, the extraction team has been delayed because it is caught in a traffic jam caused by state Department of Transportation crews that were installing barricades along the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, said protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha.
“There is an extraction team that needs to be able to access that area so they can cut up the cattle guard so they can remove the protectors, and so we agreed to open an access way (on Mauna Kea Access Road) so they could go ahead and begin that process,” Kanhua said. The protesters describe themselves as “protectors” of Mauna Kea.
“Our people have locked down now for almost nine hours,” Kanuha said of the protesters chained to the cattle guard. “That’s a long time. That’s a long time to work, and they’ve been locked down, so we want to go ahead and begin that process.”
The lower portion of the access road was quickly cleared of protesters at about 10:30 a.m., but the activists who attached themselves to the cattle guard remained chained there three hours later.
“The problem is that the DOT messed up, I guess, and the extraction team is stuck in this chaos of traffic,” Kanuha said.
MAUNA KEA >> Hawaii island police said traffic is “backed up forever” on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway as state Department of Transportation crews arrived at 11 a.m. to begin installing heavy barricades.
The department plans to begin constructing concrete barriers in the next few hours along the shoulders of the highway near the intersection of Mauna Kea Access Road as a public safety measure, said Jason Redulla, chief of the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement Unit, known as DOCARE, a division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Hundreds of protesters have gathered near the intersection to protest the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, including a number of people who have chained themselves to a cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road, blocking access to the summit.
Redulla, who briefed media by phone late this morning, said there have been no arrests so far.
He urged the public to be careful when traveling through the area and said the number one priority for law enforcement right now is to make sure nobody gets hurt.
“It creates a dangerous situation for everyone,” he said. “We are asking the public to exercise extreme caution when traveling through the area.”
County officials, likewise, earlier this morning appealed to the community to “drive with aloha” on the highway, also known as Saddle Road.
“There are many people and vehicles along the side of the road near the Mauna Kea Access Road, so please drive with caution,” they said in a news release.
“We want to keep this as peaceful as possible, and the Hawaii Police Department is asking for your help to keep the Saddle Road open and safe for everybody,” Mayor Harry Kim said in the release. “We are all ohana of this island community.”
“The main thing is to respect each other, and to keep everyone safe and in peace,” he said.
Redulla wouldn’t discuss how many law enforcement officers have been called to the area or any potential tactics that may be employed to clear the road for construction vehicles.
Ed Sniffen, deputy state transportation director for highways, said the barricades will keep the protesters at least 10 feet off the roadway as they wave and call to passing traffic.
The speed limit on the highway near the bottom of Mauna Kea Access Road is 60 mph, and state and county officials worried some of the hundreds of demonstrators along the highway could be injured by speeding cars.
Sniffen said the concrete barricades will line both sides on the highway for 800 feet in either direction from the intersection of the highway and Mauna Kea Access Road.
MAUNA KEA >> At around 9 a.m. an elder began lecturing the police at the cattle guard, telling them to go away and allow the chained protesters to sit up and stretch.
After some discussion among the officers, a sheriffs deputy offered to let them unchain themselves as long as they don’t leave. He announced that they had been arrested earlier.
The chained protesters refused the offer.
MAUNA KEA >> Sheriffs and Department of Land and Natural resources enforcement officers warned protest leaders they plan to clear Mauna Kea Access Road shortly, and protest leaders warned their fellow protesters to brace themselves.
Protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha explained to police that protest elders have committed to blocking the road, and are prepared to be arrested.
According to protest leader Andre Perez, the officers pledged to be “gentle,” with those elders who refuse to move.
“They’re going to ask you to move, they’re going to give you ample time to move out of the way,” Perez told his fellow protesters. “If you don’t choose to move, you’re will be arrested, and that’s your choice, yeah?”
“A lot of these officers are kanaka, and they’re ohana,” he said. “They’re not the enemy. The state is the enemy, and they’re being sent to do this dirty work for the state.”
Kanuha urged the protesters to stand their ground as long as possible, and step aside just before they are arrested. As for the kupuna or elders, “our kupuna have made a commitment, and we have no control over that,” Perez told the crowd, speaking over a megaphone.
“The kupuna are going to stay, they’re not going to move. They’re going to hold their ground for the Mauna. There’s nothing we can do about it. The kupuna have made their decision.”
During the negotiations, Kanuha said the protesters are fully committed to non-violence, and police asked the protesters to “police their own.”
A sheriff’s representative said authorities do not plan to clear the puuhonua or safe haven that has been established at Puu Huluhulu across from the mountain access road.
Police said they plan to clear Mauna Kea Access Road and then erect barricades, but it was unclear if they plan to immediately allow any traffic through.
One fuel truck has been waiting near the intersection since shortly after 7 a.m., unable to travel up a road jammed with protesters.
MAUNA KEA >> “This is our last stand as Hawaiians,” Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte said, covered with blankets. “They’re trying to take the most sacred part from us, our mountain. We can’t allow that to happen.”
Ritte, fellow Hawaiian activist Kaleikoa Kaeo and the others said they had been locked to the grate since about the 3 o’clock hour.
“We have no choice,” Kaeo said, his head resting on a blanket covering the metal grate. “The state of Hawaii is treating its people like we are invisible. They will pay for their racism.”
Kahookahi Kanuha, leader of the Kia’i, or Protectors, said he expected a larger contingent of police and work crews to show anytime.
“When we say we’re going to protect Mauna Kea, we’re serious,” he said.
MAUNA KEA >> A dozen police officers were watching as protesters were chained to the first cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road.
Posts that were installed for a gate were in between the police and the chained protesters.
Among the eight chained protesters were veteran Hawaiian activists Walter Ritte of Molokai and Kaleikoa Kaeo, University of Hawaii Maui College Hawaiian studies professor.
MAUNA KEA >> More than 500 protesters blocked Mauna Kea Access Road and chanted at the sun rose this morning, including eight who chained themselves to a cattle guard near the base of the road.
A convoy of state Department of Transportation vehicles carrying traffic control signage passed the intersection but made no effort to turn onto the access road.
More than a dozen elders with the protest movement sat on folding chairs and were joined by two protesters in wheelchairs at the bottom to the road as the crowd chanted and sang.
Police made no effort to disturb the protest. Gov. David Ige announced last week that the access road would be closed at 7 a.m. today to clear the way for heavy equipment for the controversial $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope.
Opponents of the project say the TMT is a desecration of a mountain that some Hawaiians consider sacred.
At the base of the access road this morning, protesters blocked a lane with a 15-foot sign that read, “Road closed due to desecration.
State and local officials will try to close a road to the summit of Mauna Kea Monday morning to allow trucks carrying construction equipment to make their way to the top to begin construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on land that some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered to protest the construction.
Officials say anyone breaking the law will be prosecuted.
Protesters who blocked the roadway during previous attempts to begin construction have been arrested.
Scientists hope the massive telescope will help them peer back to the time just after the Big Bang and answer fundamental questions about the universe. But some Native Hawaiians consider the land holy, as a realm of gods and a place of worship.
Gov. David Ige assured opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope that there will be no sweep of protesters on Mauna Kea Sunday night.
“There’s no intention to intervene by law enforcement on any activity as long as participants are behaving in a lawful manner on open public lands and abiding by lawful instructions from any law enforcement officers,” he said at an afternoon news conference at the State Capitol to dispel rumors of an impending sweep at 8 p.m.
Ige said he was informed by organizers of a 12-hour vigil on Mauna Kea to protest the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which is slated to start Monday.
The vigil went from at 6 a.m. and will end at 6 p.m. Sunday at Puu Huluhulu, which is near the dormant volcano.
Ige said he had no problems with the vigil, which will not interfere with the TMT’s construction, and stressed that there are no sweeps planned.
“As construction begins, our No. 1 priority is to keep our community safe. Law enforcement’s mission is to ensure that everyone can do their job, that truck drivers can drive and deliver equipment and materials as they are asked to do,” he said.
He wasn’t sure of the number of police officers there, but noted that there were hundreds of protesters and many parked cars on Mauna Kea.
“We are concerned that these false rumors and speculation about state law enforcement activities creates anxiety in our community, and we just really want to remind people that the men and women in law enforcement are your neighbors,” he said.
Ige didn’t mention what equipment that available for law enforcement officers on Mauna Kea or what agencies are present there, but said, “Law enforcement has been preparing in a number of different way, and we are prepared to respond to whatever the situation may be … We don’t expect protesters to get out of line, but in terms of preparation, law enforcement has gone through and prepared for every scenario you might be able to imagine.”
Ige mentioned training to manage large groups of people, but said he couldn’t comment on what law enforcement officers have one hand when asked if officers had tear gas.
The Hawaii Supreme Court approved a Conservation District Use Permit to build and operate the TMT in October. On June 20, the Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a notice to proceed to the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
On Saturday, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs demanded that construction stop to avoid harm to Native Hawaiians and ensure everyone’s safety.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporters Sophie Cocke, Mark Ladao and the Associated Press contributed to this report.