University of Hawaii president visits Mauna Kea protest site
University of Hawaii President David Lassner on Sunday briefly visited the site of the protests that have blocked the start of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, but a key leader of the anti- TMT movement said there are no talks scheduled with Lassner, the state or Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to try to resolve the standoff.
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MAUNA KEA, HAWAII >> University of Hawaii President David Lassner on Sunday briefly visited the site of the protests that have blocked the start of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, but a key leader of the anti- TMT movement said there are no talks scheduled with Lassner, the state or Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to try to resolve the standoff.
Protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha said the crowds Sunday at the intersection of Daniel K. Inouye Highway and Mauna Kea Access Road were the largest yet, and estimated that more than 3,000 people turned out.
Kanuha also said the TMT opponents have reached an agreement that allows for one vehicle per day to travel to the summit so that the passengers can worship there. In exchange, the activists agreed to allow maintenance crews to travel along Mauna Kea Access Road to reach their job sites at the existing telescopes on Mauna Kea.
Kanuha said the details of that agreement were conveyed through a law enforcement representative, and the agreement was finalized Sunday morning.
Protesters have blocked the access road since July 15 in an effort to prevent construction equipment from reaching the summit to begin work on the $1.4 billion telescope.
>> Photo Gallery: Scenes from Mauna Kea
Over the past two weeks the activists have built an elaborate tent camp at Puu Huluhulu that includes a warehouse area, kitchen area, day care area for children and classroom areas for instruction in Hawaiian culture and language, among other subjects.
Lassner arrived on Mauna Kea at 12:45 p.m. Sunday and, after a brief delay, was led up the blocked Mauna Kea Access Road to where the kupuna, or Hawaiian elders, were seated, waiting.
He approached the kupuna with a broad smile, greeted them in the tent that has served as the headquarters for the protests and had brief, quiet conversations with some of the protesters. He then took a microphone and explained to the crowd that he would not be making remarks to the squad of reporters and camera crews that followed him.
“I came here because I wanted to see you. I wanted to feel your spirit. I wanted to witness for myself firsthand what is happening here,” he told the kupuna and the crowd. “I’m committed to try to find a peaceful way forward for all of the people of Hawaii, and that requires that I understand better than I did before I came here.”
He thanked the Hawaiian leaders within the UH system who invited him to the protest, and thanked them for the warm welcome he received. “I’m glad to get this chance to talk to you,” he said. Lassner departed from the protest site slightly more than an hour after he arrived.
The university is a key player in the development of the TMT in part because it has granted a sublease of land at the summit for the project, but the university community is divided over the issue.
Some university professors have joined the protesters, and some have been teaching improvised classes on a variety of subjects such as Hawaiian language and culture along with the ethics of nonviolent protest to crowds at the protest camp.
More than 800 students and faculty have also signed a letter calling on Lassner to cancel the sublease to the TMT International Observatory and halt all construction activities for the TMT on Mauna Kea.
The letter also urges Lassner to call upon Gov. David Ige to revoke the state of emergency he declared in response to the anti-TMT protests and to “withdraw all law enforcement personnel, and stop the confrontation against protectors of the mauna who include UH students, faculty and staff.”
Ty Kawika Tengan, spokesman for the Mauna Kea Protectors at the University of Hawaii, said in a news release that Lassner has not responded to the letter. “Failing a meaningful response, we call on you to resign as president of the University,” he said, according to the news release.
Kanuha held a news conference after Lassner left Mauna Kea and said there were no substantive discussions Sunday with Lassner about the TMT. Kanuha said Lassner now has a limited amount of power over the TMT since it has been issued its permits, but called on the university to “take a position” against the project.
“It must be recognized that it is in fact the university that has been the vehicle that has allowed TMT to get to this point, and the driver of that vehicle is indeed the president, David Lassner, and so he came and he saw for himself what this is like” at the protest site, Kanuha said.
“So, whether or not he has the power to make any decisions that would, I guess, require TMT to follow, he does have the ability to take a position, and he does have the ability to say that he stands and he supports the people who are standing in protection of Mauna Kea,” he said.