HILO — A Friday meeting between leaders of the Native Hawaiian community and Mayor Harry Kim regarding the Thirty Meter Telescope project was inconclusive, Kim said during a press conference Monday.
As part of his role as mediator between the state and TMT opponents, Kim said he arranged the meeting to receive “guidance” from community leaders about how to address the ongoing protest against construction of the telescope.
However, Kim said the only real consensus from the meeting was an “acknowledgment of differing viewpoints,” as well as an agreement to have more meetings in the hope of reaching a solution agreeable to all parties.
It was unclear whether any of the community leaders in attendance were also leaders of the TMT protesters — who call themselves “protectors” of Maunakea. While Kim named some kupuna and Hawaiian sovereignty advocates as attendees of the meeting, he also said “this meeting was not for the protectors.”
Kim, who was asked last week by Gov. David Ige to act as mediator, reaffirmed his intention to find an end to the standoff over TMT as quickly as possible, saying he “does everything with urgency,” but explained that his authority to expedite the process is limited.
“All of us should only have one mission,” Kim said. “To resolve this in a good way.”
Kim also said he is unaware of two reported “deals” that were offered to TMT opponents occupying the Maunakea Access Road since July 15.
One deal, reportedly made last week, offered to suspend TMT construction activity if demonstrators allowed vehicles to return to the summit, but it was rejected by protesters. Kim said Monday that, while his office did not make such an offer, one of his goals is for access to the mountain to “return to normality” until the TMT dispute can be resolved.
The other deal supposedly was made Sunday, when demonstrators announced they would allow observatory workers to the summit in exchange for one vehicle of their own to be permitted up the mountain. Kim said he was unaware of such a deal.
John O’Meara, chief scientist at W. M. Keck Observatory, said Monday that no observatory staff have made any negotiations with demonstrators, and observatory technicians are allowed up on a case-by-case basis, as they were early last week.
“Nothing has fundamentally changed,” O’Meara said, although he added that he thinks that vehicles carrying demonstrators are now allowed up the mountain on a limited basis.
A statement by Maunakea Observatories confirmed Monday that the observatories never made any deal with protesters.
During his Monday press conference, Kim reaffirmed his personal support for the TMT, saying “I support TMT as a resource of science. I support TMT to be done in a good way, a right way.”
The telescope, Kim said, is an alternative to tourism as a means to support the island economically, but he also acknowledged what TMT represents in the historical context of how Hawaiians have been treated by the state. Repeatedly, he said the protests are not just about the telescope but about decades of disenfranchisement of Hawaiians.
“The TMT I felt could be a good thing,” Kim said. “Do I excuse the mistakes of the past? No. But I recognize it and know we have to get better.”
However, Kim also reiterated his absolute opposition to the use of force to clear the Maunakea Access Road: “I don’t even want to go there mentally. Because if I do, that means we’ve failed.”
That said, Kim acknowledged he does not have the authority to mobilize the National Guard against the protests, despite his opposition to violence.
Later Monday, protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha praised Kim for his commitment to nonviolence, but said Kim’s press conference made it clear that the mayor’s ability to end the standoff is limited.
“It was clear in his press conference that (Kim) does not have answers,” Kanuha said. “He doesn’t know how this is going to end, and he does not know how they’re going to go forward. But we have answers, and it’s a simple one: The TMT has other options, and they can choose … to leave Maunakea and to take their project to the Canary Islands.”
Kim said the decision to move the TMT project elsewhere is in other hands than his, but added that he intends to have a meeting with TMT leaders in the future.
Kim also addressed the oncoming Hurricane Erick, which is expected to bring increased rain and winds to the island this week. The demonstrators’ camp is comprised of tents and tarps, none of which can withstand hurricane-force winds, Kim said.
Kim said he has meetings with the National Weather Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement to discuss the latest developments with Erick. Should the storm become too severe, he said the camp might have to be evacuated.
Kanuha said protest leaders are “solidifying” their plans for how to deal with the storm, but added that they will not rely on government agencies to protect them.
Traffic delays are to be expected on Daniel K. Inouye Highway today between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., as the state Department of Transportation installs temporary traffic signals and extends the concrete barriers along the sides of the highway in order to ensure the safety of drivers and pedestrians near the access road, Kim said.
Traffic will be reduced to one lane during work hours.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.