Observatory workers sidelined by protests over the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea are stepping up efforts to get the telescopes back on line after four weeks of “hibernation” — but it will take several more weeks before they’re peering into the stars again.
They left the twelve telescopes July 16 after groups protesting the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope occupied the intersection of Mauna Kea Access Road and Saddle Road. Meanwhile, state law enforcement set up a checkpoint about a hundred yards from the protestors.
The kia’i, the group of activists who call themselves the protectors of Mauna Kea, began allowing more employees up after Gov. David Ige rescinded an emergency proclamation that had effectively shut down the mountain.
Some technical staff have been going up to the observatories to perform maintenance, according to Rich Matsuda, operations manager at the Keck observatory. Now, Matsuda said, more workers will be working to get the telescopes running.
“We are …trying to work our way back, as close as we can, to regular operations,” Matsuda said.
Between 50 and 75 observatory employees could be traveling up to the telescopes daily, in addition to outside contractors and from 10 to 15 night-time staff. The activists have been tracking the vehicles that ascend Mauna Kea Access Road, a practice they plan to continue, Lanakila Mangauil said at a Friday press conference.
Matsuda said that the protesters allowed a large truck containing coolants for the telescopes to pass using the shoulder of Mauna Kea Access Road last Thursday and again on Wednesday.
The telescopes have been in a sort of “hibernation mode,” Matsuda said. Many telescope systems warmed up while dormant, but must be cooled again to operate properly.
Staff will begin checking system specifications before operations begin. Scientists using instruments that remained cool could begin work in a few days, Matsuda said. Others may need to wait or use less optimal instruments.
“They have to use a substitute instrument or lose their time,”Matsuda said. “Most will choose to use a non-optimum substitute instrument.”
It could take weeks for everything to come back on-line, Matsuda said.
Ige said in a statement that the state is still committed to reopening Mauna Kea Access Road.
“The interim solution for access to the telescope is a step forward but remains inadequate for the long term,” Ige said.
Observatory staff does not communicate directly with the protesters. They contact the Office of Mauna Kea Management, which then asks law enforcement to act as the go-between with the protesters.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell