Mauna Kea summit road, visitor center remain closed

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Citing safety concerns, University of Hawaii kept the road to Mauna Kea’s summit closed above the 9,200-foot elevation Monday as workers searched for signs of damage following last week’s Thirty Meter Telescope protest.

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Citing safety concerns, University of Hawaii kept the road to Mauna Kea’s summit closed above the 9,200-foot elevation Monday as workers searched for signs of damage following last week’s Thirty Meter Telescope protest.

UH officially closed the 8.5 miles of road it manages above Hale Pohaku to non-essential vehicles Wednesday evening after TMT opponents used large rocks taken from the mountainside and stone altars to block workers who were trying to reach the construction site near the mountain’s summit.

Dan Meisenzahl, a UH spokesman, said crews were conducting an assessment of the roadway for damage and nearby slopes for potential rock falls.

Protesters helped remove the obstacles, which included four rock walls and two ahu, late last week following the nonviolent demonstration that led to 12 arrests. Meisenzahl estimated they covered 2 to 3 miles; a few rocks might still be in the path.

It remained unclear when the road or the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, located just below the closed section, will be reopened. UH closed the small visitor center Thursday morning.

“Obviously, our goal is to get it open as soon as possible,” Meisenzahl said, referring to the road.

The road’s 4-mile unpaved section needs to be graded first. That takes about 8 hours to complete but could happen today, he said.

Trucks carrying water also need to get up the road as soon as possible to support the observatories atop the mountain, he said.

With the visitor center closed, UH also planned Monday to lock and later remove portable toilets on the back side of the building.

TMT protesters, who have been camped on state land across the road from the visitor center since late March, have used those facilities in addition to the main restrooms, which also are closed.

The nearest restrooms are located at Mauna Kea Recreation Area about 13 miles away.

Meisenzahl attributed the visitor center closure to the facility not having enough resources to “handle the capacity it’s been handling for the past couple months.”

“We just don’t have enough staff and resources to handle the current demand on the facility,” he said. “That includes water use and Porta Potties.”

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Mountain trails remain open.

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

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