Mauna Kea >> The opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope declared victory Monday on what was to have been Day 1 for construction of the landmark $1.4 billion project near the summit of Hawaii’s tallest mountain.
“We stopped it, and we stopped it without any arrests,” said protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha after law enforcement officers retreated in the afternoon without following through on threats to arrest protesters.
“Day 1 is in the books. We’ll take it. It’s a touchdown on the first drive. The game’s not over, but we scored and that was the objective,” Kanuha said.
Gov. David Ige said last week construction would begin Monday, adding that after a 10-year process of approval, “the day for construction to begin has arrived.”
But just as they did four years ago, protesters successfully blocked the access road to the top of Mauna Kea, where the futuristic telescope is to be built.
>> Photo Gallery: Activists stop construction on first day of TMT work
State officials backed off of threats to take into custody protesters who had chained themselves to a cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road.
“Out of concern for the health and safety of those protesters, law enforcement officials decided to give them the option of unlocking themselves and leaving without being arrested,” the state said in a news release.
Nearly 500 mostly Native Hawaiian “kiai,” or protectors of the mountain, stood at the intersection of Saddle Road and Mauna Kea Access Road, the only paved access to the summit. They were armed with signs, banners and flags of protest and were rallied by Hawaiian chants and songs.
Numerous police, military and government vehicles cruised by the throng, and a few groups of officers assembled at different times during the day. But no TMT work vehicles showed up.
Meanwhile the state Department of Transportation placed concrete barriers on the side of Saddle Road bordering Puu Huluhulu, the Hawaiian refuge established by the opposition group late last week.
Transportation officials said the barriers were needed for safety along the busy highway, and traffic was backed up for miles with one lane of the two-lane highway shut.
>> Related story: Local support for TMT has been strong for years
The day’s biggest drama occurred 150 yards from the intersection, where eight activists had chained themselves to a cattle guard early in the morning.
A group of seven men and one woman, including veteran protesters Walter Ritte Jr. of Molokai and Kaleikoa Kaeo of Maui, had locked themselves to the metal grate,secured in the cold blackness of the 3 o’clock hour on the mountainside.
“This is our last stand as Hawaiians,” 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.”
“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.”
One of the men was locked underneath the cattle guard. He was not threatened with arrest, because he was not blocking the road, officials said.
Police officers who were watching the cattle guard said the chained protesters were under arrest and would be taken away once an “extraction team” arrived.
But the team never showed up, and police decided to go home at about 4 p.m.
After police fell back, a feeling of elation fell over the protesters.
“I get to fight again for another day,” Kaeo said after he was unshackled.
“I feel like I’m in a dream,” said Nana-Honua Manuel of Volcano. “Don’t pinch me. Don’t wake me up.”
Mauna Kea Hui leader Kealoha Pisciotta said, “This was a wonderful win for aloha and kapu aloha (the Hawaiian form of nonviolent protest).”
State crews later installed a gate next to the cattle guard but then took it down after negotiating with the protest leaders.
The action happened after most of the protesters had retreated into Puu Huluhulu, a cinder cone parking lot across the highway from the access road.
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, briefed the media on the situation.
He urged the public to be careful when traveling through the area and said the No. 1 priority for law enforcement is to make sure nobody gets hurt.
“It creates a dangerous situation for everyone,” Redulla said. “We are asking the public to exercise extreme caution when traveling through the area.”
County officials, likewise, appealed to the community to “drive with aloha” on the highway, also known as Saddle Road.
“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 a news 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.
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.
KEY MOMENTS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE THIRTY METER TELESCOPE
Nonprofit TMT Observatory Corp. founded by Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, University of California and California Institute of Technology.
TMT completes five-year design development phase with $77.1 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy and Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.
State Land Board approves comprehensive management plan for Mauna Kea.
Six draft environmental impact statement meetings held on Hawaii island, and one on Oahu.
TMT board of directors selects Mauna Kea as preferred site.
Maunakea Management Board approves project and Gov. David Ige approves EIS.
University of Hawaii Board of Regents approves project.
Maunakea Management Board approves conservation district use permit application; Land Board accepts the application.
State Board of Land and Natural Resources approves the conservation district use permit.
Board of Land and Natural Resources grants building permit for TMT observatory.
Circuit judge issues final judgment affirming BLNR’s granting of conservation district use
BLNR approves sublease with the University of Hawaii.
Ground blessing ceremony for the TMT site conducted.
DLNR issues TMT a notice to proceed with construction.
Protesters clash with police, and 31 are arrested for trying to block TMT crews from reaching the summit.
After imposing a temporary stand-down on construction, Ige releases plan to help foster better stewardship of Mauna Kea — including the decommissioning of older telescopes to clear the way for newer telescopes like TMT.
Another caravan of construction vehicles making its way to the summit is turned away by protesters covering the roadway with boulders.
Hawaii Supreme Court invalidates the conservation district use permit.
Contested case hearing begins in Hilo.
State hearings officer and former Judge Riki May Amano releases a 305-page report recommending that a conservation district use permit be issued allowing construction.
State Land Board announces decision to approve the conservation district use
Supreme Court issues decision that results in upholding validity of the sublease.
Hawaii Supreme Court affirms BLNR decision to issue a conservation district use permit.
DLNR issues notice to proceed; state dismantles four structures erected by project opponents and restricts access to the Mauna Kea summit.
Ige announces that construction will begin the week of July 15.
Protesters, some chained to a cattle guard, block Mauna Kea Access Road.