Editorial: Get structure off Mauna Kea lava
Most of the time, attention-getting maneuvers by the foes of the Thirty Meter Telescope ensconced on the slopes of Mauna Kea have worked to their advantage.
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Most of the time, attention-getting maneuvers by the foes of the Thirty Meter Telescope ensconced on the slopes of Mauna Kea have worked to their advantage. Word about the protest — principally mounted by Native Hawaiians who describe themselves as “protectors” of the mountain summit seen as sacred ground — has spread far and wide, attracting greater numbers to gather at the area called Pu‘u Huluhulu.
This time, though, some opponents have gone too far, even according to the assessment of some senior members. More to the point, they have given the state an opening for reasserting some authority over the mountain, an opportunity officials should take, and swiftly.
Built primarily over the long Labor Day weekend, a small structure has risen just off Daniel K. Inouye Highway, near the junction with Mauna Kea Access Road. Both Hawaii County and state officials have confirmed it is unpermitted and, as it occupies land under control of the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands, that agency has stated a process of enforcement to be followed.
William Aila, the interim DHHL director, said the structure will be removed “as soon as resources become available.” Whatever he meant by that noncommittal phrase, resources for fulfilling basic enforcement tasks should be available from the get-go. The correct response here is an immediate one, especially for an egregious violation.
And this one is egregious. The introduction of building materials runs the risk, among other things, of carrying pests into what is supposed to be an environmentally sensitive area. While the core leadership of the protest cannot control all activities, there are certain contingents that should exert influence.
One of them has tried, in any case. After the appearance of the wooden structure, the Royal Order of Kamehameha, the longstanding civic organization that established the pu‘uhonua (place of refuge) at the site, plainly did not see this construction as deserving of refuge.
The order issued a statement that it does not “endorse or sanction” the building: “While we remain steadfast in our commitment for the pu‘uhonua to be a safe haven for our people until we are sure our mauna is protected, we have no intention of establishing a permanent village within this refuge.”
And yet, if the state allows this serious infraction to pass unanswered, that is certainly what will result. Ensuring that illicit structures are not tolerated represents the absolute minimal degree of oversight government owes the public. According to some reports the building is intended for educational purposes; whatever it’s for, without permits and proper inspection, there can be no assurances of public safety, so it must come down.
At the same time, the self-described protectors, or kia‘i, have released a statement about unconfirmed reports of a planned deployment of the Hawaii National Guard to clear the access road, which TMT opponents have blocked since the protest began in mid-July. This may serve to invite more crowds into the area, a potential development the state should want to avoid.
A swift response to the building incident may help avert the larger confrontation that could result if the crowds are allowed to swell.
Clearly, DHHL, Hawaii County and especially Gov. David Ige must take action. Whether or not it becomes a step toward finding a compromise, there’s only one acceptable, ultimate outcome: finding accommodation for both the state-of-the-art telescope and for respectful cultural practices in a shared space.
For now, though, the protest must be kept within boundaries, which must not encompass an illegal building, or more.