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State Agencies Issue Statements On Mauna Kea Roadways Near Protest

Dan Dennison
Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

Following on traffic and parking enforcement near the Mauna Kea protest on the Big Island and recent comments by lawmakers, state agencies issued statements on Friday reiterating the Department of Transportation's jurisdiction over the summit access road and Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

The transportation department reminded drivers that the highway's road are not for long-term parking. In recent weeks, police have issued hundreds of parking and traffic tickets near the protest site.

While officials said the protesters were not being singled out, leaders of the group opposing construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope say they did feel targeted.

Crews installed temporary traffic signals and barriers at the intersection of the highway and Mauna Kea Access Road in late July, along with signs prohibiting "parking, stoppping, standing, loading and unloading" along the highway, popularly known as Saddle Road.

The attorney general, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and transportation department also issued a joint statement on state jursidiction over the access road and the highway.

"State DOT has controlled and maintained Mauna Kea Access Road since it became part of our highways system in 2018," said Ed Sniffen, transportation deputy director.

"Beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 do not own Mauna Kea Access Road," according to the joint statement. "Act 14 (1995) resolved all claims concerning the use of Hawaiian home lands for public roads and highways built before and after statehood."

In response to concerns that some compensation to DHHL from the Department of Land and Natural Resources is still due for the land under the access road, the departments said the state is reviewing that issue. 

"This process, however, does not alter the fact that all claims regarding use of roads and highways crossing DHHL lands have been resolved," the statement reads.

"The public is reminded that Mauna Kea Access Road is a public road controlled by DOT and that the current blockade is unlawful," said state Attorney General Clare Connors.

According to Cedric Duarte, spokesman for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the joint statement was issued in response to recent comments by state lawmakers and to clear up any confusion about jursidiction over the summit access road.

The issue of who owns the Mauna Kea Access Road came up during a special state Senate committee meeting earlier this month.

Although the transportation department controls the road, some native Hawaiians have questioned how it was transferred from the DHHL in a land exchange.

State Sen. Kai Kahele, who represents Hilo and is running for Congress, called for a review of the road's ownership during the Senate meeting and questioned whether the land exchange was properly executed.

"This is the most important road right now in the state of Hawaii and arguably throughout the world is the Mauna Kea Access Road. So let's work together to try and figure this out," he said.

CORRECTION: A previous edition of this story misspelled Cedric Duarte's first name. HPR apologies for the error.

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