TMT opponents expecting sweep this week

  • Demonstrators attach themselves to a cattle guard on Maunakea Acess Road July 15. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

MAUNAKEA — About 1, 000 opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope massed at Maunakea Access Road by early afternoon Sunday as protest organizers summoned their supporters to prepare for a possible law enforcement sweep of the road sometime this week.

The daily noontime protocol of chants, prayer and hula played out as usual on the closed road Sunday with only a handful of state law enforcement officers in sight some distance up the closed access road. Protesters at one point packed the lower portion of the road so completely that they barely had room to dance.

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In the weeks since the protest began, there have been larger crowds than Sunday’s, but protest leader Andre Perez said that “we know that there are many more coming in.”

The protesters said they keep hearing that 800 Hawaii National Guard troops will be involved, and “it all leads us to believe that a sweep or some kind of attempt to clear the road and clear us out is very imminent, ” Perez said. The protesters did not cite their source.

They said the sweep will be “sometime between now and perhaps Wednesday, ” and authorities will deploy concertina or razor wire to restrict the movements of the crowd, Perez said. Law enforcement officials have reportedly also built containment cages to hold the people they arrest, Perez said.

Although there was only a small police presence on the mountain Sunday, “we always have to take those things seriously and be prepared to hold our ground in peace and nonviolence, in kapu aloha, ” Perez said. “Nothing can be taken for granted at this point.”

“We remain committed to peace and nonviolence, but we will engage in civil resistance to hold our space, ” he said.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said Saturday he knows nothing about a planned sweep early this week and expects he would be informed before such an operation is launched.

State Attorney General Clare Connors declined to discuss the state’s plans, but said Saturday rumors of a sweep may have grown out of increased tensions at the protest camp after authorities moved in Friday to tear down and remove an illegal structure near the camp.

The state has acknowledged that at various points during the protests, it responded by deploying state sheriff’s deputies; police from Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii counties; law enforcement officers from the state Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Land and Natural Resources; and about 80 National Guard troops in a support role.

The access road has been closed since July 15, and activists opposed to the $1.4 billion TMT project have camped in the road or at nearby Puu Huluhulu ever since in an effort to prevent construction equipment from reaching the summit to begin site work for the telescope.

On July 17 police arrested 38 people, including a number of Hawaiian seniors, as they blocked the roadway. Maunakea is considered sacred by some Hawaiians, and the protesters believe the construction of the telescope would be a desecration of the site.

The struggle over the telescope development has drawn in a variety of activists concerned with issues ranging from Hawaiian sovereignty and self-governance to environmental preservation to preservation of Hawaiian language and culture.

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Supporters of the telescope say the project has a legal right to proceed and that the protesters blocking the road are breaking the law. Gov. David Ige invited Kim to lead discussions with Hawaiian and other organizations to seek a peaceful solution, but it is unclear whether those talks have made any progress.

Kaho’okahi Kanuha, another leader of the activists, told protesters at the access road Saturday that even if the state manages to open a way through to allow some construction equipment up the mountain, the protests will continue. It will take TMT a decade to complete construction, he noted.

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