Demonstrators Arrested for Blocking TMT Construction Crew at Mauna Kea
By Wendy Osher
Twelve individuals were arrested today for allegedly blocking access to construction workers who were en route to the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaiʻi Island to begin work on the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope or “TMT,” according to Hawaiʻi Island police.
Police say they were in communication with protesters earlier in the week, informing them that they had the right to protest peacefully; but that anyone who blocked the public road leading to the construction site would be arrested.
Here on Maui, a demonstration was held on Wednesday morning fronting the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College to bring attention to the ongoing clash between culture and development.
The Maui rally was organized by students and faculty with the UHMC Hawaiian Studies Department in solidarity with the actions of individuals trying to protect Mauna Kea. The rally was held in concert with similar demonstrations at UH Hilo and UH Mānoa yesterday.
Those in opposition to the project have expressed concern over continued development at the sacred site. Some of the signs held on Maui read: “Support Kānaka Rights: No TMT”; “Malama Mauna Kea”; “Aloha ʻĀina mauna Kea”; and “ʻAʻole TMT.”
TMT Project Manager Gary Sanders issued a statement saying, “We regret that police action had to be taken to enable our legal access to the project site. TMT respects the rights of everyone to express their viewpoints. We also respect the laws of the State of Hawaiʻi and the seven-year public process and authority that granted us permits to build the Thirty Meter Telescope in the Mauna Kea Science Reserve’s Astronomy Precinct. Like most people in the community we truly believe that science and culture can coexist on Mauna Kea as it has for the past 50 years along with other public uses.”
Hawaiʻi Island Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares also commented following the incident saying, “During the arrests, our officers practiced the Hawaiʻi Police Department’s core value of compassion.”
Those arrested ranged in age from 27 to 75. Hawaiʻi Island police say the arrests began at around 8 a.m. and were still in progress at noon today.
The individuals were taken to the Hilo police station for processing and then released after posting $250 bail.
Among those arrested were: Ronald Fujiyoshi, 75, of Hilo; Moanikeala Akaka, 70, of Hilo; Joseph Kanuha, 56, of Kailua-Kona; Eric Heaukulani, 38, of Kealakekua; Kelii Ioane Jr., 63, of Hilo; James Albertini, 68, of Kurtistown; Erin O’Donnel, 40, of Kamuela; Craig Neff, 56 ,of Pāpaʻikou; Gary Oamilda, 66, of Ocean View; Chase Kahookahi Kanuha, 26, of Kailua-Kona; Dannette Henrietta, 45, of Hilo; and Lambert Lavea, 27, of Mountain View.
Additional enforcement was conducted by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Kealoha Pisciotta of the Mauna Kea Hui, the group holding a demonstration at the site released the following statement:
Statement on the Mauna Kea arrests
Kealoha Pisciotta, Mauna Kea Hui
April 2, 2015 (4:00 p.m.)
There are no words…we are deeply deeply saddened by the arrests today of our Hawaiian brothers and sisters and other citizens who were peacefully protecting Mauna Kea from further desecration while we wait for Hawaiʻi’s courts to hear our appeal.
In aloha we’ve directly sought the help of Governor Ige, Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Kenoi, University of Hawaiʻi President Lassner and Hawaiʻi County Prosecutor Roth. But so far none of them have stepped forward to intervene on our behalf.
Last night we were informed by the Governor’s Chief of Staff that there was ‘too much construction company money at stake” for us to expect Governor Ige to use his executive authority to hold off construction until our appeal can be heard by the State Supreme Court.
Today’s arrests are hewa—a grave wrongdoing. At least 30 of our Mauna Kea ohana have been handcuffed and hauled off the mountain by County police and by State DOCARE officers of the Department of Land and Natural Resources—the very state agency that we are challenging in court.
We understand that Governor Ige’s office is getting flooded with phone calls today from Hawaiʻi citizens expressing shock at these arrests and disappointment at the Governor’s failure to act on behalf of the petitioners, the Hawaiian community and the mountain.
Unfortunately, today’s arrests are consistent with the way the State has treated the Hawaiian community during the whole TMT hearing and permitting process—by the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR), the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents, and the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM), all of whom have worked diligently to forward the interests of this University of California/Caltech project and Hawaiʻi’s local construction companies.
Hawaiians blocked the TMT’s construction crews and equipment in order to support two important statutory rights:
1. The right to appeal to the highest court in Hawaiʻi a flawed conservation district permit and lease that injure the rights of Native Hawaiians and other Hawaiʻi citizens and two deeply flawed lower court decisions.
2. The right to protect our sacred mountain from desecration, a crime under state law whose maximum penalty is fines or jail time for each offense.
We deeply appreciate the tremendous outpouring of sympathy and support that we’ve received today from people all over Hawaiʻi nei and from others beyond our shores. Mahalo nui loa.
In Aloha we remain,