HILO — Although the Maunakea Access Road has reopened to the public, protest leaders are preparing for a possible confrontation with the state.
Gov. David Ige announced Thursday that the road was reopened to the public after representatives of the Thirty Meter Telescope project told the state that they are not prepared to begin construction in the immediate future.
However, the state also told the gathered protesters — who call themselves kia‘i, or protectors of Maunakea, which they consider sacred — that they have until Thursday, Dec. 26, to clear the road, or else face consequences.
What those consequences are is unclear.
Protest leader Kaho‘okahi Kanuha said he and other kia‘i were only officially informed about the road’s reopening after Ige’s announcement. There was no dialogue between the state and the protesters about the new state of affairs, Kanuha said.
After Ige’s announcement, the protesters were advised of the Dec. 26 deadline by Lino Kamakau, branch chief of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement on Hawaii Island. Based on Kamakau’s statement, Kanuha said he thinks the state is prepared to clear the road by force, potentially using anti-personnel weaponry such as tear gas or a long-range acoustic device.
“As far as we understand it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll try to clear the road on the 26th,” said protest leader Andre Perez. “It could be that if we’re not off the road by the 26th, then they’ll come to clear us off at a later time.”
Kanuha said using force to clear protesters the day after Christmas seemed like such poor optics that it should be unimaginable the state would ever attempt it, but added he would have thought similar things about the arrest of more than 30 kupuna in July.
Kanuha said he expects DOCARE officers to check in daily to apprise the protesters of any changes in the situation, based on what Kamakau said. Otherwise, he said, there has not been any consistent communication with the state.
Shortly after Ige’s announcement, state crews began removing concrete barricades from the sides of Daniel K. Inouye Highway around the access road, as well as the temporary traffic light.
Kanuha said he was informed that all the barricades will be removed within the next several weeks.
“When they put up those barricades (in July), they said it was to protect our safety,” Kanuha said. “So, is our safety not important anymore? It’s either that they don’t care about our safety, or that the barricades were never there for our safety, but to help TMT.”
Source: The Garden Island