MAUNA KEA — Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has promised there will be no construction activity by the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea and no police action to clear out the anti-telescope protesters during the next two months provided the protesters agree to move off the Mauna Kea Access Road.
The kupuna or elders who have led the protest agreed to Kim’s proposal this morning after meeting for about two hours to discuss it, which means the access road will be cleared. However, protest leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson said the TMT opponents remain determined that the telescope will never be built.
“We are all here committed to protect our mauna. That has not changed,” Wong-Wilson told reporters in a press conference at the protest site shortly before noon today. “So we send that strong message out to the lahui (nation) and to everybody who has stood with us, whether from far, or from near, from around the world. We are winning this, guys. We are winning this.”
That pronouncement drew cheers from about 150 protesters and supporters who had gathered on the road this morning to chant, dance hula and await.
Kim said in an interview today the new agreement was triggered in part by a news release issued by Gov. David Ige on Dec. 19 that pointedly stated state officials are supporting the county as ithe county attempts to clear the Mauna Kea Access Road so that TMT construction can proceed.
Kim said that up to that point the county had no authority on the access road, and “everybody knows that.” Kim said he called Ige and asked if Ige was saying that the responsibility of clearing the road now rests with the county, and Ige agreed that it does.
That same news release from Ige said the TMT is not prepared to move forward with construction “at this time,” so Kim said he contacted Gordon Squires, the TMT vice president for external affairs. Squires assured Kim that there would be no construction activity on the mountain during at least the next two months.
Kim then offered his personal assurance to the protesters that TMT will not more forward with construction on Mauna Kea for at least two months, and requested that the protesters clear the road to provide full public access.
During that pause in the standoff on the mountain, Kim said he plans to solicit “select people” to come together to “and then try to get some discussion on where do we go from here.” He said he will seek “professional people to guide us” and help with that process, but said he does not like the word “mediator.”
Kim said he will not necessarily be directly involved in that process. “I don’t know who is going to be in that meeting. I’m going to get people that are in this field. How do we get the sides together? Who should be on it, and how should it be conducted?”
As for the protesters claim that the new agreement amounts to a victory for the TMT opponents, Kim that doesn’t trouble him.
He noted that the protesters are deeply fatigued after more than five months of protests over Mauna Kea, and “if we don’t get this resolved as a people, my goodness, do you realize this kind of thing can go on forever, and there will be no movement of any kind on that, good or bad? And that’s what I’m trying to resolve.”
“If they see this as a victory, that’s more than fine with me, because to me the victory is a halt of this growing polarization of people,” Kim said. “It just depends what you’re measuring. I consider it a major victory, too. Now, maybe we can get together.”
Kim said it is possible the new agreement with the protesters will be extended for longer than two months. Kim said he told Squires he wants more time to try to work out a peaceful solution to the protests, but Squires said he would need to consult with the TMT board about the possibility of a longer delay.