MAUNAKEA — State personnel on Friday dismantled an unpermitted structure that was constructed by Thirty Meter Telescope protesters earlier this week.
The structure, described by demonstrators as a library and learning center for children visiting the site, was erected during the Labor Day weekend on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property.
On Friday morning, state Department of Transportation personnel, accompanied by Hawaii police, state sheriffs and officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement arrived at the structure and asked demonstrators to disperse. After they did so, DOT workers quickly demolished the entire building.
“This was a large, permanent structure,” said Krishna Jayaram, special assistant to the state attorney general, who was at the scene Friday. “And according to news reports at least, it was meant as some sort of library or learning center for children. That poses significant concerns with respect to fire safety, structural integrity … .There was a real concern that it was a health and safety issue here.”
Jayaram also said the lack of inspections on the building’s construction materials meant there were concerns it might have harbored invasive species.
DHHL posted a Notice to Vacate on the premises Wednesday, Jayaram said. As the owner of the property on which the structure was built, DHHL could have been responsible for fines related to it.
Two demonstrators, both men, were arrested before the demolition after refusing to comply with orders to vacate the area. The two were charged with obstructing a government operation, Jayaram said.
As the demolition proceeded, demonstrators watched from behind a police line, chanting prayers and occasionally shouting admonitions at the officers.
“The most disturbing thing that happened today was the irresponsibility of police, of law enforcement,” said protest leader Andre Perez.
Perez said the first thing state personnel did after securing the building was destroy a Hawaii state flag that was stretched across its entrance. That action, he said, “agitated and escalated an already tense situation.”
“They really pushed the threshhold by cutting that flag in half,” Perez said. “There was no logic to it, it wasn’t necessary, they could have pulled it off the wall.”
Jayaram said the flag was nailed to a barricade blocking the entrance of the building in such a way that officers could not access the interior without removing it and added that accusations of flag desecration are inaccurate.
State Attorney General Clare Connors said during a press conference in Honolulu that there was “no intent to desecrate a flag … (it) was in a position where there was no option but to cut through the flag to enter the building.
The interior of the building was empty at the time of its demolition, Jayaram and Perez said. The building appeared to have not been put to use as a library.
While Perez criticized the actions of law enforcement, he acknowledged that the building had not been sanctioned by the Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu — the collective that administrates the ongoing demonstration — or the members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha at the scene. Perez said he would expect the kupuna (elders) of the pu‘uhonua to caution against building another such structure, for fear of escalating the standoff between protesters and the state.
Gov. David Ige issued a statement supporting the actions by law enforcement.
“Law enforcement has deliberately refrained from escalating its approach to the current protest because it was important to provide some meaningful space and time for all of us to find a peaceful resolution to this situation,” Ige said. “However, this type of permanent structure erected without DHHL permission, and without being regulated or inspected in any way, cannot be allowed. The safety risk is too great.”
Ige said he and other officials continue to talk with people throughout the state to try and find a solution to the ongoing standoff at Maunakea Access Road, which has continued more than 50 days. Perez, meanwhile, said demonstrators’ resolve remains firm.
“What’s next is we continue to focus on TMT,” Perez said. “We need to continue to remember why we’re here, and the focus is the TMT and protecting the mauna from desecration. Buildings can be rebuilt. Maunas cannot be un-desecrated.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.