HONOLULU (AP) — After months of protesters camping on Mauna Kea to block construction of a giant telescope near its summit, the state is trying to limit their access to the mountain, which is held sacred by many Native Hawaiians.
Even though camping is already prohibited on the mountain, state Attorney General Doug Chin said it’s necessary to implement rules restricting being within a mile of the mountain’s access road during certain nighttime hours, unless in a moving vehicle, and prohibiting camping gear.
Protest leaders say that won’t stop them from keeping constant vigil on the mountain.
Simply saying no camping is allowed is too vague, Chin told the state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources during a meeting Friday to consider the emergency rule.
Construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope remains stalled as protesters maintain an around-the-clock presence on the mountain. More than 40 protesters were arrested during the two days that crews unsuccessfully attempted to restart construction.
Bad behavior by some protesters— ranging from putting boulders in the road to threats and harassment— have created unsafe conditions that make the emergency rule necessary, Chin said.
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.
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.
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.
On April 21, a woman who yelled “kill the haoles, kill the tourists,” using the Hawaiian word for white people, according to the logs, calmed down when visitor center staff asked four other protesters for help: “They offered aid willingly and apologized for the woman’s behavior and language.”
State officials say the rule also is necessary because 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.”
He said the rule is a “weak and shameful” attempt to keep protesters off the mountain and allow construction to resume.
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. State officials said everyone who wants to testify will be heard.
Some of those who testified said the rules would infringe on Native Hawaiians’ right to access the mountain for cultural and religious practices.