Two people were arrested this morning as law enforcement officials moved in to begin tearing down an illegal wooden structure erected by a faction of activists near the main camp of the opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope, according to state Attorney General Clare Connors.
Live Facebook footage from the scene showed authorities using a front-end loader shortly before 10 a.m. to begin crushing and removing the walls of the building. The structure was demolished within minutes, and state Department of Transportation crews began loading lumber to be hauled away.
One observer at the site estimated that the work crew and heavy equipment were accompanied by about 100 law enforcement officers, and video showed protesters gathered outside of a perimeter established by state sheriff’s deputies and Hawaii County police officers.
Connors said the two unidentified people were arrested for obstruction of a government operations, but there were no reports of violence at the site. The protests on Mauna Kea have been nonviolent ever since the Mauna Kea Access Road was closed on July 15.
In a statement posted on the Facebook page Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu Maunakea, leaders of the protests on Mauna Kea said that “this is a highly emotional moment and we ask that everyone remain in kapu aloha as we get through this day.”
“We condemn every example of the state of Hawaii’s selective enforcement of the law, especially as it is currently targeting protectors. Undeterred by today’s actions of the state, all in the puuhonua remain united and committed to the protection of Maunakea in kapu aloha.”
Connors said state officials posted a notice Wednesday warning the activists that the structure would be torn down. She said the building raised concerns because it had no state or county permits or other approvals, and the activists did not have permission to build on the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property.
She said the illegal structure also raised the possibility that invasive species could be brought into a fragile area.
Connors said there were several children were on the lanai of the structure when authorities moved in at about 8:30 a.m. this morning, but the activists quickly removed the children.
The structure built on a lava field near the main camp of protesters at Puu Huluhulu was a source of some division among the protesters who have been blocking the Mauna Kea Access Road to try to prevent construction of the TMT.
One group of demonstrators did most of the work assembling the building over the Labor Day weekend, but the Royal Order of Kamehameha I issued a statement Tuesday saying it does not “endorse or sanction” the building. The Royal Order established the puuhonua, or place of refuge, at Puu Huluhulu that is serving as a hub of the protest activity.
“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,” the order said in the statement.
“We have informed the individuals building the structure that neither the Royal Order of Kamehameha nor Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu endorse or sanction the construction of immobile structures. We remain committed to maintaining only a temporary presence and a light footprint within the boundaries of the Pu‘uhonua.”
Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman William J. Aila announced Tuesday that law enforcement officials had notified the activists that the structure is unpermitted.
“Unauthorized structures on all DHHL lands statewide are addressed in a consistent manner,” Aila said in his statement. “Following a posted Noticed To Vacate, DHHL will remove the structure as soon as resources become available.”