The battle rages on between scientists and the locals – with a $1.4 billion, three meter high telescope hanging in the balance. Hawaii officials have been forced to vote in favor of imposing restrictions on access to Mauna Kea after protesters blocked construction multiple times.The Board of Land and Natural Resources voted 5-2 Friday night on the 120-day rule, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. The rule restricts anyone being within a mile of the mountain’s access road during certain nighttime hours – unless in a moving vehicle, and prohibits camping gear.
“We need the tools to keep order on the mountain,” said board member Chris Yuen. “It’s sad that it has come to this point.”
Construction had stalled as protesters maintained an around-the-clock presence on the mountain.
More than 100 people testified during the eight-hour meeting. The board went into executive session around 9 p.m. and came out for deliberations after 10 p.m.
According to state Attorney General Doug Chin, aggressive behavior by some protesters – ranging from putting boulders in the road to threats and harassment – has created a precarious conditions which makes the restrictions necessary. Incidents recorded include a bomb threat made on Facebook, protesters making a throat-slashing gesture at workers of an existing telescope and protesters taking souvenirs from the gift shop.
The University of Hawaii, which is responsible for stewardship of Mauna Kea, released logs kept by rangers and staff at the mountain’s visitor center since late March, when protesters started staying on the mountain overnight.
Some of those who testified said the rules would infringe on Native Hawaiians’ right to access the mountain for cultural and religious practices.
Board member Thomas Oi cautioned Chin that the rules would hurt others, specifically hunters: “To punish one group you’re punishing the whole island.” More than 100 people signed up to testify for three minutes each on the proposed rules.
Kahookahi Kanuha, a protest leader, denied the allegations of bad behavior. “Everything has been pono,” he said, using the Hawaiian word for righteous or proper.
University spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said the troublesome incidents represent a “very, very small number of the overall people who have been up there throughout the months.”
“There are many examples of protesters stepping in and helping mitigate situations,” he said.
State officials said the volume of protesters – hundreds of them at times – is damaging to natural resources and a strain on facilities.
“We’re a minority of the people that access the mountain,” Kanuha said. “There are much more tourists on the mountain than us.”