Activists on Mauna Kea say they will evacuate if weather turns perilous
With two hurricanes approaching Hawaii, the activists blocking construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope say they are prepared to evacuate their blocking positions on Mauna Kea Access Road if the weather danger becomes too great.
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MAUNA KEA >> With two hurricanes approaching Hawaii, the activists blocking construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope say they are prepared to evacuate their blocking positions on Mauna Kea Access Road if the weather danger becomes too great.
Kaho‘okahi Kanuha, one of the leaders of the Mauna Kea protests, said the protesters are monitoring the storms closely and receiving hourly updates, and “ultimately, we’re not trying to sacrifice the safety of anybody. We’re going to make the decision that’s in the best interest of the safety of our people.”
In the meantime Kanuha issued an invitation Tuesday for opponents of TMT to join activists on the mountain today to mark the anniversary of the first national holiday of the Hawaiian kingdom on July 31, 1843. That holiday was established to celebrate the restoration of Hawaiian sovereignty after a representative of the British Empire briefly claimed the islands.
With a brisk, cold wind and rain soaking the puuhonua established at Puu Huluhulu, attendance at the protest site dropped significantly Tuesday. The noontime gathering and ceremony on Mauna Kea Access Road that has attracted more than 2,000 participants on busy days dropped to only about 350 people.
Kanuha acknowledged that if the protesters vacate the sites they control near the base of the Mauna Kea Access Road because of the weather threat, that could provide an opening for the state to move construction equipment up to the summit.
When asked whether a limited number of activists might be left in place as a hurricane approaches, he said that will depend on the situation.
“We know that it has been quiet up here, and no actions have been attempted, and nothing has been moved towards us in regards to law enforcement and machinery. However, we are asking everyone to be vigilant because we know that anything can happen at any time,” he said.
But Gov. David Ige, speaking from the Capitol, said he doesn’t anticipate there being any construction activities in the next few days because of the threat of the hurricanes.
With the hurricanes approaching “we don’t anticipate moving equipment at this time,” Ige told reporters. “Certainly, for the safety of all involved, we do believe we want to deescalate activities.”
The protesters have been blocking the road for more than two weeks in an effort to prevent the equipment from reaching the construction site of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope. The activists oppose the project because they consider it to be a desecration of a mountain that many Hawaiians consider to be sacred.
Ige told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that “certainly, we are concerned” about the possible impacts from the storms.
Forecasters are predicting heavy rain and wind from Hurricane Erick, and Ige said his office is seeking information more specific to Mauna Kea so that protesters and law enforcement on the mountain can be warned.
“We certainly would encourage people to seek shelter, as we always do as storms approach,” he told reporters.
As for law enforcement, Ige said that as the storms approach, “the intention would be to keep law enforcement there just in order to keep people safe. Obviously, we are monitoring the approach of the storm, and will take appropriate action.”
Hurricane Erick is forecast to pass south of Hawaii island, but Hurricane Flossie could cause more significant weather impacts on the islands next week as it follows a more northerly track, Ige said.
“Just as I encourage all of our citizens to be safe as those storms approach, I certainly would encourage those on Mauna Kea to be safe as well,” he said.
After the storms, “certainly we will be working to assure that the project gets access to the site, and we will continue our efforts, the county efforts, to provide safe access to the construction site so construction can begin as lawfully permitted,” Ige said.