(Source: Honolulu Star Advertiser)
Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation on Wednesday afternoon as the number of people gathered at the base of Mauna Kea to protest the Thirty Meter Telescope swelled to roughly 1,000 and crews were blocked for the third day in a row from accessing the telescope construction site.
Ige said the proclamation would provide law enforcement with more flexibility and authority to close off areas of Mauna Kea and better restrict access to the mountain. The proclamation suspends various state and county laws, including land management ordinances, expedites compensation for members of the National Guard, and allows for mandatory evacuations of civilians.
Ige stopped short of saying the state intended to use the proclamation to help forcefully clear the area of opponents of the telescope.
“The number of protesters has swelled and their blockage of roads and highways creates a dangerous situation,” Ige told reporters in announcing the emergency proclamation. “This affects the ability of first responders to address emergencies and disrupts the public’s ability to move freely and safely. The protesters’ activities affect our local businesses, their ability to use Saddle Road and operate. The conduct of the protesters also diverts our law enforcement resources from the protection of the broader community.”
Telescope opponents, who refer to themselves as “protectors” of the mountain, have been congregating near the intersection of Daniel K. Inouye Highway (commonly called Saddle Road) and Mauna Kea Access Road where their numbers appear to have increased from a few hundred on Monday to the state’s estimate of about 1,000 on Wednesday.
Law enforcement officers arrested 33 kupuna, or Hawaiian elders, on Wednesday morning, setting off a steady stream of emotional images and video via news outlets and social media. Officers looked poised to begin arresting more protesters who were blocking the road to the construction site mid-day, but backed off.
Protesters have made clear that their goal is to stop construction of the telescope, calling it a desecration of sacred land, and have said they will not relent, setting up an impasse with law enforcement agencies that have worked to avoid aggressive or violent confrontations.
However, efforts to avoid a clash have made it unclear what the state’s plan is to gain access to the construction site and state officials have refused to comment on anything that relates to their strategy.
Supporters of the project have begun to express frustration with the state’s reluctance to enforce the law and arrest everyone who is blocking the road.
Dan Fox, a 78-year-old Oahu resident, said the state’s action’s were illogical.
“Why did they waste all of this manpower bringing cops from other islands and the National Guard? Why are they doing all of this if they are not going to do their job? I don’t understand. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
“The protesters, their goal is just to be arrested … So why don’t you accommodate them? I’m shocked that they didn’t clear them off this morning.”
Ige defended law enforcement’s handling of the situation, calling their actions to this point commendable.
“They have been patient. They have been professional. They have dealt with kupuna who are stating their opposition to the project,” he said. “And I have encouraged law enforcement to be respectful, but enforce the law. So certainly we are looking at what is necessary to ensure that we can get project equipment and personnel to the construction site so that they can begin construction of the project.”
Asked if he thought construction crews could make it to the site today , Ige said there is no specific timetable.