MAUNA KEA, Hawaii — Thirty Meter Telescope protesters were still bracing for an eventual police action as a fourth day of standoffs wound down peacefully with no arrests or violence Thursday.
The mood among the protesters blocking the summit road remained positive but tense. State officials estimated about 600 protesters were at the site Thursday.
At one point the approach of what was thought to be a law enforcement vehicle resulted in the sounding of conch shells that resulted in hundreds of people rushing within about a minute to join those already gathered on the road. It was a false alarm.
The impromptu solidarity produced joy, although leaders restated their warning.
“We do know they are organizing, ramping up,” Andre Perez announced shortly after 3 p.m.
Earlier, Perez taught protesters how to lock hands in a “clip-grip” move to form a human chain. How to avoid a “snatch and grab” of leaders also was explained by Perez, who expressed worry that he might be later charged with conspiracy or other crimes for his role as one of the protest leaders.
Saddle Road, a major east-west highway across the Big Island that was temporarily closed Wednesday afternoon, was open Thursday.
“But foot traffic beyond the cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road is now restricted, a decision related to the governor’s emergency proclamation issued Wednesday,” according to a statement from the Joint Information Center, which includes representatives of several state and county agencies.
“The proclamation gives law enforcement increased flexibility and authority to close more areas and restrict access on Manua Kea to ensure public safety,” the statement said.
The proposed $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope has been debated for years, and many Native Hawaiians say there are already too many observatories on the mountain they consider sacred.
Although it wasn’t on the agenda, the TMT protest was discussed Thursday at a meeting of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.
UH President David Lassner told regents that Wednesday was the most difficult day of his presidency.
He said seeing 34 kupuna arrested at Mauna Kea was hard, and at midday, groups of students, staff and faculty called for his resignation at UH Manoa.
“As painful as it is on many days such as yesterday, I’m really quite proud of our students, our graduates, our faculty and staff for standing up for what they believe,” Lassner said.
He said he’s received many messages to stop the project, and many telling him to stay the course. He noted that UH has no power over law enforcement on the mountain.
He said the TMT project has created rifts on UH campuses.
“Though it may sound disingenuous to those who disagree with me, I will do all I can in the days, months, years ahead to try to keep us together on these issues where we can agree, while trying to keep the rifts from (affecting) our core mission.”
Regent Alapaki Nahale-a, a former Hawaiian Home Lands director, said the board also needs to shoulder some of the responsibility for issues surrounding TMT.
“Any criticism directed at you is directed at anyone in this room,” he told Lassner.
Several students and UH accounting instructor asked the board and Lassner to halt the project.
Manu Ka’iama, the instructor, criticized UH’s handling of Mauna Kea, and how it has already allowed telescopes to be built there.
“Mauna Kea is our ancestor, like your tutu,” she said. “Once your tutu gets punched in the face a couple times, would you say it’s OK if she gets hit more times because she already broke all her teeth? Of course not.”
“You would say, let’s embrace her, take her and let her heal. Let’s do everything in our power to heal her.”
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