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State sets Dec. 26 deadline for TMT protesters to leave Mauna Kea

  • BRUCE ASATO / JULY 19
                                Aerial view of intersection of Daniel K. Inouye Highway and Mauna Kea Access Road as seen from the top of Pu’u Huluhulu.

    BRUCE ASATO / JULY 19

    Aerial view of intersection of Daniel K. Inouye Highway and Mauna Kea Access Road as seen from the top of Pu’u Huluhulu.

MAUNA KEA >> State law enforcement officers have given the Mauna Kea protesters an ultimatum to clear out of their camp on the access road by Dec. 26 or face arrest.

Lino Kamakau, branch chief of the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resource Management, set the new deadline in a briefing for about 75 protesters at the camp at midday today.

Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the protest leaders, said the kupuna or elders who have led the protests need to meet to discuss the deadline. However, she was skeptical that the protesters would suddenly voluntarily pack up and clear out of the protest site.

Ige announced this morning that the Thirty Meter Telescope is not ready to moved forward at the moment, but “there is absolutely nothing that tells us that the threat is removed,” Wong-Wilson said.

“We don’t trust government to begin with and this particular governor, so him making an obtuse statement that TMT has announced that they’re not coming for a while just doesn’t hold any water for us,” she said.

Kamakau declined comment, referring questions to a spokesman for DLNR.

Wong-Wilson said Kamakau told the protesters that law enforcement would visit the protest site each day to ensure progress is being made on removing the tents and equipment that are blocking the Mauna Kea Access Road.

“They are simply telling us the road is now open, you’re in the way, and you have until the 26th of December over the Christmas holiday to remove any blockage of the road, and no options,” she said.

“We asked if there were other options, for example moving to the side of the road, and they were unclear about that,” Wong-Wilson said.

Ige gave an apparently conflicting statement at a 10 a.m. news conference at the State Capitol today, stating that he planned to remove state personnel from the mountain because TMT officials said they were not going to proceed with construction at this time.

Ige said, “We have been working with the (TMT International Observatory) being prepared for them beginning construction and when we were informed that they were not going to be proceeding at this time we thought that it would be prudent to remove state personnel and start to deescalate and return access to Mauna Kea Access Road.”

Ige emphasized that TMT was not abandoning the site in Hawaii. Asked why the project was unable to move forward at this time and when it would be, he said, “I think you need to direct that question to TMT.”

Ige said that TMT had not provided a timeline for when the project would be ready.

The governor also wouldn’t say when law enforcement would leave the site or whether TMT opponents could expect their encampment to be swept.

“I really can’t comment on that at this time,” said Ige.

Gordon Squires, TMT vice president for external relations, released a statement after the governor’s news conference that said in part, “We don’t want to put our workers, the people of Hawaii, and the protesters at risk. Unfortunately, the state and Hawaii County have not demonstrated that they are able to provide safe, sustained access to Maunakea for everyone.”

Squires did not mention a pause in TMT’s plans for Mauna Kea. Squires said in the statement Mauna Kea remains TMT’s preferred site.

“The project and our individual partners are committed to moving forward in a manner that honors and supports our scientific goals, environmental stewardship and the traditions and culture of Hawaii,” it says.

Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim has promised to inform the public if or when TMT decided to begin moving equipment up the mountain. Asked if he would make the same commitment, Ige declined.

“You know, certainly I’m not going to discuss operational issues and I have told you that before,” said Ige. “Certainly you are going to have to have that conversation with Mayor Harry Kim.”

The Ige administration distributed a memo earlier this morning in which Ige expressed his “severe disappointment that TMT will not move forward for now, despite months of often intense behind-the-scenes discussions” involving TMT, law enforcement and the protesters.

Ige has said the state and counties have spent $15 million so far coping with the protests.

The memo also said that the TMT is not immediately ready to proceed with the project, prompting Ige to notify the protesters of the temporary stand-down by law enforcement.

However, Ige has said repeatedly he still intends to reassert the “rule of law” and reopen the Mauna Kea Access Road to allow construction to resume on the $1.4 billion telescope.

“It is our understanding that Hawaii County will give the protesters time to remove the unauthorized structures and materials before undertaking its own clearance procedures,” according to the Ige administration memo.

The stand-down is expected to last about two months, according to one source, but it is unclear what will happen after that.

It is also unclear if the stand-down will prompt the TMT opponents to vacate the protest site they have occupied on the mountain for more than 22 weeks.

Pua Case, one of the leaders of the protest, said state highways crews are expected to begin removing the barricades along the Daniel K. Inouye Highway today, but said the TMT opponents are not yet certain exactly what that means.

The stand-down did not appear to have taken effect as of 8 a.m. this morning. A half-dozen vehicles belonging to law enforcement officers with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources remained parked above the barricade on the access road as about 30 protesters chanted and danced hula in their morning protocol.

The access road has been closed since July 15. The protesters believe construction of TMT would be a desecration of a mountain that many Hawaiians consider sacred.

Supporters of the project including Ige say the TMT backers have secured all of the necessary permits from the state and county, and have the right to proceed with construction.

This is the full statement from the TMT’s Squires:

“The decision to open the Mauna Kea Access Road should not be predicated on TMT’s timing to start construction. Maunakea access should be open to everyone. It’s a state road and hunters, hikers, locals looking to snow play, visitors, cultural practitioners, astronomers, commercial tour operators and stargazers should expect no less from State and County government.

“Over the last five months, we participated in frequent discussions with the State on finding a peaceful, lawful and non-violent way forward on Maunakea. We don’t want to put our workers, the people of Hawaii, and the protesters at risk. Unfortunately, the state and Hawaii County have not demonstrated that they are able to provide safe, sustained access to Maunakea for everyone. For us, this dates all the way back to our groundbreaking in October 2014 and subsequent attempts to begin construction in April and June 2015 and in July 2019.

“We are sensitive to the ongoing struggles of indigenous populations around the world, and we will continue to support conversations around TMT and the larger issues for which it has become a flashpoint. We are participating in private conversations with community leaders, but these conversations will take time.

“Maunakea remains our preferred site. The project and our individual partners are committed to moving forward in a manner that honors and supports our scientific goals, environmental stewardship and the traditions and culture of Hawaii.”

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