Maunakea debris raise concern, again

  • Tents and other items on both sides of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway in January. Windy conditions have caused another, similar mess in what remains of the protest camp, protest leaders say. (Hawaii Tribune-Herald/File photo)

After a windy week along the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, the camp at the Maunakea Access Road has incurred ire from, among others, supporters of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Since the day after Christmas, the number of protesters at the long-standing camp around the access road has diminished thanks to a promise by Mayor Harry Kim that no attempt to begin construction of TMT would begin until the end of February.

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However, as people have left the camp, many now-unused tents and tarps have been left behind along the sides of the highway. Although the protesters made a cleanup attempt in January, heavy winds earlier this week once again scattered many of their tents across the area.

“It’s no secret that we got hit by storms,” said protest leader Andre Perez on Friday. “We are in the process of cleaning up and removing the tents that were damaged.”

Perez said a large roll-off dumpster was brought to the camp Friday to remove the windblown tents, tarps and other debris.

After heavy rainstorms in January, the protesters received criticism from residents about unsightly and potentially dangerous garbage littered around the highway. Similar criticism followed the heavy winds earlier this week, although Perez said much of those complaints were the result of a concerted effort by pro-TMT individuals to discredit the protests.

Thayne Currie, a Maunakea astronomer, posted to a private Facebook group called “Yes to Thirty Meter Telescope” earlier this week, urging members to send photos of the protest site to elected officials and media organizations, along with messages urging the officials to “address this matter with (the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands) and (the Department of Land and Natural Resources), so that the entire encampment can be removed properly.”

“Our chief concern is that, if you’re going to protest against TMT at least in part on an environmental basis, you need to do the same thing,” Currie said. “This is the second time this has happened.”

Currie said while the abandoned tents alone pose a potential safety hazard if they are carried onto the highway by the wind, the greater encampment at the base of Pu‘uhuluhulu and the protesters’ main tent on the Maunakea Access Road are also unlawful and should be removed.

“I think they should all go home so we can all talk,” Currie said. “The mayor has promised that no construction is going to happen for now, so we should all try to talk.”

However, protest leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson said the protesters have still had little communication with the state since the current grace period began in late December. Aside from periodic contact from Kim’s office, and the delivery of an anemometer from Hawaii County Civil Defense, the protesters have received little to no advice from DHHL regarding the camp debris.

DHHL spokesperson Cedric Duarte could not comment Friday about the intentions of the DHHL, but said the department is aware of the the litter and debris surrounding the camp.

Wong-Wilson said the protesters will continue their cleanup through the weekend, and will not reassemble many of their tents until later next week, as strong winds are still predicted for the next several days.

Both she and Perez took a dim view of criticism like that from Currie, which she called “dirty tactics” that cast false aspersions on the camp.

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“When hurricanes hit the island, you don’t see people complain about the garbage that gets blown everywhere,” Wong-Wilson said. “I think there’s very little to say about these tactics … as though we’re living in tenement housing up here.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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