Protectors build unpermitted structure

  • Thirty Meter Telescope protesters build what they describe as a library or learning center and authorities say is an unpermitted structure near Pu’uhuluhulu. (Courtesy Photo/Facebook)

  • Department of Hawaiian Home Lands map of structure location

  • Facebook photo Thirty Meter Telescope protesters build what they describe as a library or learning center and authorities say is an unpermitted structure near Pu’uhuluhulu.

HILO — A wooden structure is under construction by individuals protesting the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea.

Meanwhile, a memo was posted on social media Tuesday by protest leaders on Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu letterhead. It advised protesters — who call themselves kia‘i or “protectors” of Maunakea — that National Guard troops and out-of-state law enforcers could be called in by the state in an attempt to forcibly end a blockade of Maunakea Access Road in place since July 15.

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The building under construction near Pu‘uhuluhulu, described on Facebook as a “library” and “learning center,” started to take shape during the Labor Day weekend.

“I am aware of it,” said Mayor Harry Kim on Tuesday. He said the building is on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property and he and DHHL Interim Chairman William Aila discussed it during the weekend.

“He told me has already talked to the attorney general’s office in regards to following up on that,” Kim said. “Our Public Works and Corp Counsel is following up on it, just to touch all bases.”

Kim sent a letter to Aila on Tuesday afternoon. According to the letter, a review of county records “indicates no permits or approvals were issued” for the structure and Kim requested “that DHHL immediately investigate” reports of the structure and take necessary and appropriate action.

The county could fine DHHL for being in noncompliance with permitting requirements since the department is the landowner and the land is not leased to protesters.

Aila said in a statement Tuesday that police have “notified protectors the structure near Kipuka Pu‘u Huluhulu is unpermitted” and “unauthorized structures on all DHHL lands statewide are addressed in a consistent manner.”

“Following a posted notice to vacate, DHHL will remove the structure as soon as resources become available,” Aila said. He added abandoned or seized property will be held pursuant to state law.

State attorney general’s office spokesman Krishna Jayaram echoed Aila’s statement that “law enforcement has notified the protesters that this is an unpermitted structure.”

“They neither have the right to build there nor the proper permits to do so,” Jayaram said in an email. “There are serious health, life, safety concerns associated with an unpermitted structure such as the introduction of invasive species, fire safety, structural integrity, etc., and this illegal structure will be addressed by the appropriate state and county agencies.”

Kahookahi Kanuha, a protest leader, said at mid-afternoon Tuesday he was working on a written statement about the structure. The Tribune-Herald didn’t receive the statement by deadline.

The social media memo titled “Maunakea Maka‘ala Alert” said kia‘i leaders have heard the state “will employ the use of National Guard troops and out of state law enforcement in the next 30 days to clear us off the Maunakea Access Road and Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu.”

“In addition, we are being notified that law enforcement is considering using excessive force by way of chemical dispersants to punish and suppress our people standing in peace and protection of our mauna,” the memo continued. It accused the state of “fumbling to address issues of unclear and uncoordinated leadership, confused jurisdiction and exposure of decades-long illegal uses of Hawaiian trust lands.”

Kanuha said the memo is “not a kahea,” an immediate call for action, but “just a maka‘ala to be alert, to be vigilant for the time that may be coming very soon.”

“Whether or not they bring in out-of-state law enforcement officers, we do believe that we are getting closer to another confrontation,” Kanuha said. “It’s been about 50 days or close to it since our last confrontation with police officers … July 17, when 38 kupuna were arrested. We think the time is coming and it could be getting closer, and if that is the case … we believe our people should be aware of that, so that they can begin to prepare accordingly. And ultimately, you know, we would rather assume that the time is close and be wrong, than assume that the time is not close and be wrong. And whether or not this information proves itself to be true, it has no impact or no effect on our commitment to kapu aloha.”

Jayaram declined to comment about law enforcement operational details “except to note that law enforcement has acted, and will continue to act, with professionalism and the protesters’ assertion that state law enforcement is ‘considering using excessive force … to punish and suppress our people’ is utterly wrong.

“Law enforcement is trained to use the appropriate amount of force to make sure that illegal conduct is stopped — in this case, it would be the weeks-long illegal blockage of Maunakea Access Road.”

The state Supreme Court ruled in November that permits issued to TMT to construct the $1.4 billion next-generation telescope are valid. Gov. David Ige announced July 10 construction would start the following week. The road blockade has, thus far, successfully prevented trucks and workers from accessing the would-be construction site.

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Ige later extended the deadline for construction to start by two years, but Gordon Squires, TMT’s vice president of external affairs, told the Tribune-Herald late last month that continued inaction on the project might cause some of the project’s partners to reconsider their involvement. Squires said a decision on whether to build here, move the project to Spain’s Canary Islands — or to not build at all — would have to be made “definitely sooner than two years.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.