Kupuna meet with Big Isle Mayor Kim, reject proposal for TMT
A group of kupuna, or elders, from the movement opposed to the Thirty Meter Telescope being built on Mauna Kea met with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim on Monday to discuss Kim’s plan for resolving the dispute, which proposed that the TMT would be the last telescope built on the mountain.
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HILO >> A group of kupuna, or elders, from the movement opposed to the Thirty Meter Telescope being built on Mauna Kea met with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim on Monday to discuss Kim’s plan for resolving the dispute, which proposed that the TMT would be the last telescope built on the mountain.
The elders said they “remained firm in their resolve and commitment that they are not supportive of his plan, because his plan is pro-TMT,” said Andre Perez, one of the leaders of the protests on Mauna Kea.
“There cannot be meaningful dialogue if the compromises is expected only on one side,” Perez said. “It appears that the state and the mayor want all the compromise to be for the kiai (‘protectors’ of the mountain), and when it come to the TMT, that’s just not an option for us.”
The massive march through Waikiki on Saturday provided the opponents of the TMT with an opportunity to prove the depth of support for their protests on Mauna Kea Access Road, which have blocked the start of construction of the $1.4 billion telescope since July and also served as a stark reminder for TMT supporters of the complex political challenge before them.
Organizers of the march from Ala Moana Beach Park to Kapiolani Park estimated that 20,000 people turned out, while Honolulu police put the crowd count at 12,000 to 15,000. Either way, the rumble of marchers chanting and singing their way through the state’s most densely developed tourism hub was impressive.
Kate Stanley, interim chairwoman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, said she believes the TMT issue “will affect Hawaii for a long time, and that saddens me.”
The party is clearly divided. The Hawaiian Affairs Caucus of the state party last month presented Gov. David Ige with a resolution that supported the TMT opponents camped on Mauna Kea Access Road and urged the TMT International Observatory Board of Governors to withdraw its plans to built on Mauna Kea.
But Stanley said the caucus does not speak for the party as a whole. Ige, a Democrat, has said repeatedly that TMT has the legal right to proceed with construction at a site near the summit, and says he is determined to clear the road.
“The TMT is a very difficult discussion for everybody in Hawaii, and I hope that all parties will be able to talk to each other,” Stanley said. “I see that unless we can talk to each other and work things out, we are going to have a lot of people who are going to be — on both sides of the party — very hurt and feel a lot of pain.”
Perez said the message from the Saturday marches on Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Kauai is that “we have huge, broad-based support against the TMT.”
“This march can be seen as a groundswell, like a mighty wave, as they say on the mountain, of kiai who are committed and dedicated to protecting Mauna Kea,” he said. “Anybody who does not acknowledge that is naive, or blinded their agenda for the TMT.”
But House Speaker Scott Saiki said the numbers of people participating in the march “are to be expected, because these issues have been brewing for a while.”
The protesters, who call themselves kiai, or protectors of the mountain, have raised an array of concerns including environmental protection issues and the lack of progress in awarding Hawaiian home lands to people who have been on the wait list for decades.
Saiki said some people who participated Saturday oppose the TMT, but others may be concerned about land management or have concerns about cultural issues.
“I’m sure that people participated for different reasons,” he said. “The message is to government officials as well as leaders within the broader Hawaiian community that there needs to be reforms in land and cultural management practices.”
State Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who has publicly called on Ige to clear the access road so that construction can begin, cited her own concerns about the protests.
She compared the tents at the protest camp along Daniel K. Inouye Highway to a Kakaako homeless camp and said she heard concerns from motorists that Hawaiian and other flags that are flown from vehicles to show support for the protesters might fly off and cause an accident.
Inouye also said she was notified by law enforcement that she was the target of two death threats on social media after she publicly urged Ige to clear the access road, and said she is worried that if TMT is forced to go elsewhere, the state and county might be held legally liable for damages.
“I just pray that we can be reasonable persons in negotiating something, and it has to happen soon,” she said.