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Observatories group, TMT protesters reach agreement to allow Mauna Kea workers access

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    A visitor takes a picture at the Mauna Kea summit on July 14, with one of the twin W.M. Keck Observatory telescopes in the background.

The Mauna Kea observatories announced this afternoon that they will attempt to resume normal operations after coming to an understanding with Thirty Meter Telescope protesters and law enforcement.

The agreement, announced in a news release by the Maunakea Observatories, will end a four-week suspension of work at the summit of Hawaii’s tallest mountain.

“The interim solution for access to the telescopes is a step forward but remains inadequate for the long term,” Gov. David Ige said in the release. “The State remains committed to re-opening the Maunakea Access Road intersection as an immediate priority.”

Mauna Kea Access Road remains blocked, but the activists previously agreed to allow all existing observatory employees, including astronomers, to access the mountain using the Old Saddle Road and a section of unpaved lava lined with tents, cars and people.

According to a new agreement, the state laid cinder and cones in an attempt to address safety concerns. The people blocking the road also agreed to allow larger vehicles to access the road by going around the tent blockade and to travel on the road’s shoulder.

This arrangement added to the improvements to address safety concerns constitutes progress, according to the Mauna Kea Observatory release.

“The observatories hope this process will allow them to return to as close to full operations as possible while the Maunakea Access Road remains blocked,” the release said.

“This is what we have all been collectively working on: protecting the rights of the protectors to demonstrate is our responsibility; protecting the rights of the workers at the observatories to go up the mountain to do their work is our responsibility; and protecting the rights of the public to visit the mountain is our responsibility,” Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said in the release. “We’re very appreciative of the efforts by (the state) to negotiate with the protectors to regain access. This is a step forward, but still my goal is to open the mountain in protection of the rights of all others.”

The observatories plan to send regular day crews back to the summit to prepare the telescopes to resume operations. Some of the instruments were disabled to protect the health of the technology and will take time to restart, officials said.

The four-week suspension is the longest period of time in the 50-year history of mountaintop astronomy outpost that all telescopes have been simultaneously offline.

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