Despite pandemic, some continue camping on Maunakea

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Occupied tents are set up off Saddle Road and Maunakea Access Road on Thursday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A heat lamp, pallets and other items sit unattended on the Maunakea Access Road Thursday.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down businesses and gatherings worldwide, a few holdouts are still camping alongside the Maunakea Access Road.

Back in March, a camp that had stood for eight months in opposition to the proposed construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea was formally disbanded to ensure occupants’ safety as the pandemic intensified. However, a handful of people remain up there at any given time, along with a few abandoned tents and other detritus.

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“There are about 7-15 people that stay here each day to watch the road and make sure nothing happens to the mountain,” said one of the occupants, Alika Kamanawa Kinimaka, on Thursday.

However, none of the people currently at the access road are officially affiliated with Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu, the organization that formed to support the protests.

“The people who are up there are up there on their own,” said protest leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson. “A handful of people made their decision to stay.”

Wong-Wilson said that, after Gov. David Ige issued his stay-at-home order on March 23, the camp occupants stayed for several days to clear the camp.

“We removed as much our things as we could before we sent everybody home,” Wong-Wilson said.

The remaining items at the access road are either weighed down to be picked up later, or are intermittently occupied by the people who remain at the camp.

Wong-Wilson cautioned that, while the camp in its heyday operated under strict rules of cleanliness, those rules “went down when we did,” and the present occupants may not be motivated by the same love of the ‘aina as the protesters — although Kinamika called the current occupation “the organic extension of the protests.”

When the stay-at-home order is lifted, Wong-Wilson said camp occupants will return to dismantle the rest of the camp.

While the TMT opponents have not changed their position, she said she does not predict the TMT project to move forward in the near future.

“Much as we loved living on the mauna, it’s not the place for people to live,” Wong-Wilson said. “To be honest, I’m glad (the mauna is) resting right now, not just from all the tourists, but from us.”

The current occupants, however, are no less determined.

“Nothing — even the pandemic, — (will) steer us away until TMT gives us the documentation promising not to build,” said camp occupant Kaleo Zuleu on Thursday.

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Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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