HILO — Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope rejected an offer by mayor Harry Kim Thursday that would temporarily suspend construction efforts — a proposal that Kim’s office later said was never made.
Protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha said Kim’s reported offer was to suspend construction of the $1.4 billion observatory in exchange for the protesters — who call themselves kia‘i, or protectors, of the mountain — removing their blockade of Maunakea Access Road.
“He is asking us to clear the roads and allow unobstructed access up the mauna, so that we can, I guess, go to the table and have conversations,” Kanuha said.
Hawaii News Now quoted Kim — who was asked by Gov. David Ige on Tuesday to mediate between the state and demonstrators — on Thursday as saying “if it takes assuring them there will be no sneaking in of any construction people or equipment, I have to assure that that will not happen.”
However, a spokesperson for the mayor said Thursday that reports of such an offer were inaccurate. A statement from Kim’s office reported that Kim does not have the authority to make such deals that impede with the TMT project.
“(Kim) has no authority to intervene or make any kind of deal regarding TMT; his role is to work with all sides to find a better way forward for everyone concerned,” read the statement.
Kanuha had already rejected the supposed deal before that statement was made, having concluded on his own that Kim lacks the authority to make such offers.
“At this point, we’ve had conversations with the mayor,” Kanuha said. “We’ve had conversations with the governor. And it’s been made clear to us that they really have no power over this decision … of the TMT continuing on their project here in Hawaii.”
Kanuha reaffirmed that the protesters will stand firm and not leave the access road unless the authorities confirm that TMT will abandon attempts to build on Maunakea.
“We are willing to clear out if the mayor and the governor and TMT promises that they will not build on Maunakea,” Kanuha said. “If we get that word today, we will begin removing ourselves from this place.”
With demonstrators remaining on the access road, access to the Maunakea telescopes is impossible without cooperation from the protesters. Kanuha said he is willing to let observatory support workers through — technicians from Gemini Observatory were permitted access during a brief window of time late Tuesday, while Subaru Telescope technicians were allowed up Thursday — but only through communication between demonstrators and the observatories.
“We have proved over and over that we are willing to work with them,” Kanuha said. “All it takes is a little communication.”
Astronomers, however, will not be allowed up, Kanuha said.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.