Saturday marks the end of a temporary promise by the Thirty Meter Telescope to not attempt construction on Maunakea, but it is still unclear what, if anything, will happen in the coming weeks.
Last December, in an effort to reopen Maunakea Access Road after five months of closure, Mayor Harry Kim promised protesters opposing the TMT project that no construction would happen until at least the end of February. But even with the end of February less than a week away, neither Kim nor TMT have confirmed what will happen next.
While Kim said last week that he was hoping to extend the current grace period by another two months, and that TMT would give him an answer by the end of last week, he explained Monday that he still does not know the observatory’s plans.
“I think I can safely say that there are no plans to start construction next week,” Kim said, but added that his role in the situation is purely to keep the access road open at the request of Gov. David Ige, and he is consequently not kept abreast of all of TMT’s decisions.
Kim said he understands TMT officials will discuss their next moves at several meetings next week, which presumably means that no construction will begin immediately.
TMT spokesperson Scott Ishikawa said TMT currently has no official update about the future of the project and could not confirm whether it will extend its commitment to not attempt construction.
Kim’s desire to extend the truce period — which not only promises that no construction will begin, but also guarantees that the protesters can continue to manage their camp without fear of arrest — has incurred ire from many people annoyed at the state and county’s apparent inability or unwillingness to conclusively settle the TMT issue. Feb. 15 marked the seventh consecutive month of the protests on Maunakea; however, the most significant action taken against the protesters camped on or alongside the access road occurred three days into the protests when state police arrested more than 30 Hawaiian elders.
“The protesters are not owed anything,” said Sam King, executive director of pro-TMT organization Imua TMT. “There shouldn’t be further promises made to the protesters. … As far as I’m concerned, TMT can wait as long as it needs, or they can go up tomorrow.”
King said he “applauds Kim’s efforts” to seek common ground with TMT opponents and supporters, but went on to say that there is no reason for the government to delay a legally sanctioned project by granting concessions such as the current truce to the protesters.
However, Kim said delaying the project was the point, in a way.
“I get so many calls saying ‘all you’re doing is delaying it,’” Kim said. “And I guess that’s true.”
Throughout the current truce, Kim said he has been able to speak with various parties, both for and against the project about how they would like to see the matter resolved.
While he said his goal is not to attempt to convince the protesters to leave the mountain — since the protests began, they have been adamant that they will not willingly leave so long as TMT is scheduled to be built on Maunakea — he said that he speaks with different groups about the situation every week.
“I’ve told (TMT), the more time you give me, the more people I’ll be able to talk to,” Kim said.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.