Gov. David Ige on Tuesday called off an emergency proclamation he issued two weeks ago to get construction started on the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, saying the arrival of storms on the Big Island will postpone construction anyway.

Ige said there are “no immediate plans to move heavy equipment” because two Pacific hurricanes headed toward Hawaii would make it hard to start construction.

Ige also announced that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources approved a two-year extension so that construction on the TMT would not have to start until September 2021.

Gov. David Ige at a press conference Tuesday announcing the end of his emergency proclamation. 

Scott Ishikawa, a spokesman for the Thirty Meter Telescope, said telescope officials requested the permit extension “out of an abundance of caution.”

“We continue to support the ongoing conversations around those issues that are larger than TMT and Maunakea,” he said in a statement. “At the same time, it is important for us to get started as soon as possible.”

Kaho’okahi Kanuha, a spokesman for the demonstrators on Mauna Kea, told Civil Beat both decisions by the governor are small victories for the kia’i, or guard, the term often used for people who oppose the TMT.

“We defeated their timeline,” Kanuha said, noting that the TMT had planned to start construction this summer. “They have recognized and realized that that may not be possible and if that’s the case, it’s because of what we have done.”

TMT construction has already been delayed four years by a combination of protests and lawsuits.

Permit Extension

At Tuesday’s press conference, Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said that the use of the department’s law enforcement force on the mountain is drawing from operations elsewhere.

“They can’t do the rest of their job when they have to deal with protesters blocking the road,” she said.

TMT had until Sept. 26 to begin construction to comply with the conditional use permit from DLNR.

TMT protestor Kahookahi Kanuha walks past Honolulu Police Dept officers that quickly arrived on Mauna Kea Access Road. July 17, 2019
Kaho’okahi Kanuha, right, faces Honolulu police officers in riot gear July 17 on the Mauna Kea Access Road. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kanuha said he’s concerned that Case appeared to unilaterally extend the TMT’s permit by two years without bringing the issue before the Board of Land and Natural Resources. He noted that the TMT’s permit approval two years ago wasn’t unanimous.

DLNR’s administrative rules allow Case to extend construction deadlines up to two years. Any further extensions would have to be approved by the board.

Still, Kanuha said that it’s good news the governor has ended his emergency proclamation. He said the kia’i are planning to remain on Mauna Kea to continue to stand vigil against the TMT.

“This doesn’t change very much,” he said, “because like we’ve said over and over again, we’re prepared for a long struggle.”

But Kanuha said the group is open to evacuating if the approaching hurricanes hit Hawaii island. When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Kanuha said the mountain is already rainy and windy. Still, he said more people continue to come to the mountain each day and spirits are high.

Week 3 Of Protests

By now, protests against the construction of TMT on Mauna Kea have stretched into the third week. TMT construction could take about a decade, and TMT officials have no plans to move the telescope site, though they have selected a site on La Palma in the Canary Islands as a potential alternative.

The opposition has continued to gain steam, with the number of protesters swelling from the hundreds in early July into the thousands last weekend.

Protests began July 15, the day construction was scheduled to begin. That morning, a group of the protesters, who call themselves the protectors of Mauna Kea, strapped themselves to a cattle guard.

5am Before Sunrise near the Maunakea Access Road as demonstrators move around in the dark.
At dawn, Mauna Kea demonstrators move around in the dark and prepare for morning ceremonies during the first week of protests. Kanuha said these ceremonies are continuing despite bad weather. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Days later, 38 people were arrested and issued citations for blocking Mauna Kea Access Road.

In a court declaration, state Department of Transportation Deputy Director Ed Sniffen said that the protests have blocked access for construction vehicles like diggers and rock trucks.

Ige declared an emergency proclamation over Mauna Kea lands July 14 in an effort to get construction started. That emergency order was being challenged in the courts.

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday afternoon that the legal challenge may continue even though the order has been rescinded. Hearings were scheduled for Thursday, but those were cancelled.

The state Attorney General’s office tried to argue in court that the case should be moot since the order was called off. Judge Gary Chang told Deputy Attorney General Max Levins that the situation on Mauna Kea has not changed, and nothing is stopping Ige from signing another executive order.

“Your argument is not enough in this court,” Chang told Levins.

Last week, Ige asked Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to take the lead on finding a peaceful resolution.

Kim said during a Monday news conference that he plans to continue discussions with Native Hawaiian leaders to find a way forward.

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