‘Peaceful resolution’ sought

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Construction crews made no attempt Tuesday to reach the Thirty Meter Telescope site on Mauna Kea following a human blockade the day before as officials try to find a resolution to the standoff.

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Construction crews made no attempt Tuesday to reach the Thirty Meter Telescope site on Mauna Kea following a human blockade the day before as officials try to find a resolution to the standoff.

“At this point, we are working with representatives from TMT as well as the leaders of the protesters, and trying to come to a peaceful resolution,” said Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares.

Dozens of TMT opponents blocked the Mauna Kea Access Road next to the visitor center Monday to prevent workers from reaching the construction site near the top of the mountain. Visitors and employees of other telescopes were allowed through.

Authorities with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Hawaii County police were present but made no attempts to clear the road. About 15 vehicles turned around that afternoon after waiting nearly the whole day at the roadblock.

“Sitting in your vehicle for eight hours is wasting a whole lot of people’s time and money,” said TMT spokeswoman Sandra Dawson. “That’s not something anybody wants to repeat.”

A DLNR spokeswoman said the department is following the county’s lead on the matter.

Tavares said both sides have been “very cooperative.”

“Our reaction will depend on their actions,” he said, referring to protesters. “They have been informed that they can protest but not violate the law.”

Tavares said the primary concern of police is public safety.

He said any decision on arresting protesters would be made by “police administrators,” which, he confirmed, is a higher level than officers at the scene.

Many protesters view the mountain as sacred and don’t think the $1.4 billion project should be built there. Some argue the United States is illegally occupying Hawaii and the state doesn’t have authority to approve the project as a result.

Lanakila Mangauil, one of the protest leaders, said between 30 and 40 protesters arrived early Tuesday morning in case workers made another attempt to reach the site. About 20 remained as of noon and some planned to continue to sleep in their vehicles at the visitor center to maintain a 24-hour presence.

Dawson, who noted extensive public outreach efforts by TMT, said she was frustrated by the roadblock but not discouraged. She said she has received lots of phone calls from people expressing their support.

“We have tried really hard to be a community partner,” Dawson said. “I’ve been told we have gone above and beyond what anybody has done in the past.”

In addition to TMT committing $1 million a year to science, technology, engineering and math education on Hawaii Island, she said she is providing $150,000 a year out of her budget to support local schools. TMT plans to announce The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) fund grant recipients Monday.

TMT will be one of the world’s most advanced telescopes when it achieves first light in 2024 and will collect nine times more light than the Keck Observatory’s telescopes.

According to its website, the observatory will explore with greater detail the creation of the universe, early galaxies, black holes and planets outside our solar system in addition to discoveries that can’t currently be anticipated.

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Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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