Latest Developments As TMT Construction Preparations Begin on Mauna Kea

Jul 15, 2019

Updated: July 15, 3:20 p.m.

Same time, same place. Protesters and law enforcement expect to be back at Mauna Kea tomorrow after the anticipated arrests of protesters aiming to stop construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope did not materialize. Instead, there were frequent conversations between the protesters and law enforcement officials, with both sides saying they wanted to maintain the peace in a volatile situation.

Updated: July 15, 1:48 p.m.

One protest leader says there will be no arrests today. The demonstrators who had chained themselves to a cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road have untied themselves and returned to a sanctuary across from where hundreds of protesters had gathered to protest construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. At a press conference this afternoon, Jason Redulla, chief of the state Division of  Conservation and Resources Enforcement, said he heard of no reports of arrests at this time. If there were arrests, it is "breaking news" to him, he said.

Police were also dispersing from the scene. Protest organizer Kaho'okahi Kanuha said demonstrators who call themselves protectors of the mountain had tied themselves to the cattle guard for 11 hours, anticipating that construction would start on the telescope. While construction equipment had been staged nearby, no machinery was driven up the access road.

Updated: July 15, 1:27 p.m.

Demonstrators opposing construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope are no longer blocking the road near the intersection of Mauna Kea Access Road and Saddle Road, but they remain at a cattle guard about 100 yards up the access road, according to a protest organizer, Kaho'okahi Kanuha. 

Earlier in the day, Kanuha had urged a group of protesters to "remain dignified, remain disciplined, remember kapu aloha."

"Remember we have a plan, and we trust in it. And it’s not an end-all-be-all today. I explained back there, we’re playing football [and] it’s just the first drive. Not even the first quarter. [We] got a long game ahead of us,” he said.

Updated: July 15, 12;39 p.m.

Law enforcement officials are dropping Jersey barriers on the south side of Saddle Road as the wait continues for what might come next. Those protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea continue to block access on a paved road up to the summit.

Updated: July 15, 11:32 a.m.

Saddle Road has been shut down to one lane on the Kona side as law enforcement officials mobilize ahead of the expected arrests of protesters attempting to block any construction equipment that would proceed up Mauna Kea to begin construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Updated: July 15, 11:06 a.m.

Construction crews in a convoy have arrived at the Mauna Kea Access Road but are not yet proceeding up the mountain. One of the protest organizers, Andre Perez, said an "extraction truck" and county mobile command post are at the scene in anticipation of arrests of those protesting the Thirty Meter Telescope construction.

Updated: July 15, 10:52 a.m.

The kupuna or elders have moved up the Mauna Kea Access Road to a cattle guard where others protesting the Thirty Meter Telescope had tied themselves down in an effort to block access to the mountain.

Updated: July 15, 10:37 a.m.

The Hawai'i County mayor issued an appeal to drivers along Saddle Road to be careful as they approach the scene of the demonstration now underway against the Thirty Meter Telescope construction. Mayor Harry Kim said county police are there mainly to keep everyone safe and ensure traffic flows along Saddle Road. The road leads up to Mauna Kea Access Road, where about 200 to 300 protesters are attempting to block access up the mountain. Vehicles are parked along Saddle Road near the access road intersection.

State transportation crews set up flashing lights about a half mile from the intersection to alert motorists about the activity. 

Updated: July 15, 9:34 a.m.

The situation remains tense but calm on the ground at Mauna Kea Access Road, which the state closed early Monday in preparation for the start of the Thirty Meter Telescope construction. Protesters are awaiting any moves by law enforcement to clear access to the building site, but leaders of both sides continue to talk to avoid confusion. Earlier, there were hugs between law enforcement officers and protest leaders. The two sides say they want to keep things peaceful.

Updated: July 15, 9:03 a.m.

State Department of Land and Natural Resources officers are inspecting the location where eight demonstrators have tied themselves to a cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road in opposition to the start of the Thirty Meter Telescope construction. They are watching some untie themselves to rest but there are no arrests thus far. About 200 to 300 protesters are gathered at the mountain.

Updated: July 15, 8:32 a.m.

A state truck has arrived carrying several construction barriers in advance of the anticipated shutdown of Mauna Kea Access Road. Elders, among those opposing construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope and blocking the access road, say they will not move and plan to be arrested.

Updated: July 15, 8:27 a.m.

The situation remains calm at Mauna Kea Access Road where protesters continue to block the roadway. Police say they will gently arrest anyone blocking the access, while anyone not on the road will be left alone. Law enforcement leaders also say they will honor a sanctuary set up by demonstrators across the street.

A group of demonstraters were told by one organizer with a bullhorn to stand their ground as long as they can, but added that if anyone escalates the situation, they should be calmed down.

"The law eforcement officers are not the enemy. The state is the enemy," said another organizer, Kaho'okahi Kanuha, who has been talking to Hawaii County police. Kanuha said the officers seem like good people.

Updated: July 15, 8:10 a.m.

Several hundred protesters have gathered at the Mauna Kea Access Road, some sitting across the roadway and a number lying down, in an attempt to halt the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Law enforcement say no one on the sides of the road will be arrested, but the paved access remains blocked by protesters. 

Updated: July 15, 8:02 a.m.

Protesters are saying that under the Treaty of 1893 they are not breaking the law. Activist Pua Case has been speaking with a state Department of Land and Natural Resources officer who pledged that "everyone will be treated with respect."

Updated: July 15, 7:50 a.m.

About 30 to 40 law enforcement officers have moved in and protesters are chanting. The officers are led by state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement personnel who are talking to leaders of the protest in an effort to keep the situation orderly.

There are safety concerns as traffic is open on Saddle Road.

Updated: July 15, 7:41 a.m.

A law enforcement convoy has arrived at the location where demonstrators are blocking Mauna Kea Access Road. The officers are holding about 300 yards from the roadway for now.

Updated: July 15, 7:36 a.m.

Several hundred protesters have gathered at the Mauna Kea Access Road, some sitting across the roadway and a number lying down, in an attempt to halt the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope. 

Construction of the observatory could begin as early as today. Officials planned to close the access road at 7 a.m. to get ready for the transport of heavy equipmemt headed up the mountain to the building site. But at 7:36 a.m., the road remained blocked.

About 20 kupuna or elders with younger adults behind them form the line on the road, two in wheelchairs. One state vehicle driving up the road was turned back. Up the road, a separate group has been lying down. They have tied themselves to a crossing guard.

About 10 medical personnel are standing by, from first aid workers to physicians. They have been passing out sunscreen, water and food and making the kupuna comfortable.

Officers with the state Attorney General's office amd ACLU obsevers are monitoring 

The protesters, many of them native Hawaiians who believe the telescope would desecrate revered land, say they plan peaceful demonstrations at Mauna Kea and will carry on their cultural and religious practices there.

While state and county law enforcement agencies have pledged to respect the rights of the opponents, they add they are prepared to take steps to allow the long-delayed work on the telescope to proceed.

This is a developing story. Please return for updates throughout the day. Hawai'i Public Radio's Ryan Finnerty is on Hawaii Island and will be reporting on developments as they unfold. HPR's Ku'uwehi Hiraishi will be covering events and policymakers from Honolulu.