Maui News

TMT Executives: Opening Road “Should Not Be Predicated” on Timing of Construction

December 19, 2019, 1:24 PM HST
* Updated December 19, 1:48 PM
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Base of Maunakea Access Road at the intersection of the Daniel K Inouye Highway. PC: (file photo July 18, 2019) Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Governor David Ige announced the state will be withdrawing personnel from Maunakea Access Road on Hawaiʻi Island where a demonstration against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope has been ongoing for more than five months.

During a press conference on Thursday morning, Gov. Ige said the decision was made so that personnel “can enjoy the holidays with everyone else.”  When asked to explain further, he said, “We’re looking at all the resources that are currently at Maunakea and trying to make prudent decisions.”

When the administration was informed that the TMT was not going to be proceeding with construction at this time, Gov. Ige said, “we thought that it would be prudent to remove state personnel and start to de-escalate and return access to Maunakea Access Road.”

Dr. Gordon Squires, TMT Vice President for External Relations released a statement on behalf of the Thirty Meter Telescope project, saying the decision to reopen access “should not be predicated on TMT’s time to start construction.”

“Maunakea access should be open to everyone. It’s a state road and hunters, hikers, locals looking to snow play, visitors, cultural practitioners, astronomers, commercial tour operators and stargazers should expect no less from State and County government,” said Dr. Squires.

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Dr. Gordon Squires, TMT Vice President for External Relations released a statement on behalf of the Thirty Meter Telescope project saying:

According to TMT executives, the project has participated in discussions with the state to seek a “peaceful, lawful and non-violent way forward on Maunakea.”

“We don’t want to put our workers, the people of Hawaiʻi, and the protestors at risk. Unfortunately, the state and Hawaiʻi County have not demonstrated that they are able to provide safe, sustained access to Maunakea for everyone. For us, this dates all the way back to our groundbreaking in October 2014 and subsequent attempts to begin construction in April and June 2015 and in July 2019,” said Dr. Squires.

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Amid criticism over the ability to provide safe access, Gov. Ige said, “We continue to work with the project and will be prepared when they are prepared to start construction.  The county and the state will be prepared to provide access.”

Dr. Squires said, “We are sensitive to the ongoing struggles of indigenous populations around the world, and we will continue to support conversations around TMT and the larger issues for which it has become a flashpoint. We are participating in private conversations with community leaders, but these conversations will take time.”

TMT executives maintain that Maunakea remains their preferred site for the project.

This afternoon, the Hawaiʻi County Police Department issued an advisory saying the public should expect delays along Route 200 near Maunakea Access Road while State Highway crews move equipment.

With winter weather impacting the summits recently, Gov. Ige acknowledged that it does “make sense,” and said he hopes demonstrators will move off the mountain.  The question remains what will happen if demonstrators do not remove their campsite.  The governor said he will be working with the county, but a specific timeline has not been determined.

On Wednesday afternoon, the group Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu Maunakea issued an update from Maunakea speaking mostly on the council vote in which members rejected acceptance of a reimbursement of funds for “expenses incurred by the Police Department in response to protest activities related to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.”

In a statement issued this afternoon, Gov. Ige said, “While I am disappointed that TMT will not move forward at this time, I hope this will allow for some respite during the holiday season. I also remain committed to continuing the many conversations that are currently taking place. I know that we can do great things when we work together, and I am hopeful that our community will be stronger going forward.”

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