Two weeks after the state’s arrest of 38 kupuna for obstructing Mauna Kea Access Road, Governor David Ige continues to find himself with few options in the standoff over the construction of the contentious Thirty Meter Telescope. Force, an early choice that resulted in the arrests of the 38 elderly and non-violent Kanaka Maoli, proved to further stoke the fire of activists’ passion, as thousands of kia’i (“protectors,” those opposed to the TMT) gathered on the mauna and demonstrated across the islands in the following days.
Subsequent efforts have been just as ineffective and polarizing, including a July 17 emergency proclamation (met with skepticism and resulting in legal challenges), attempts at public relations (perceived as racist after the governor said activists were using marijuana and alcohol), and the passing of management to Big Island Mayor Harry Kim (“I don’t even want this job,” Kim said).
With options dwindling, the state and TMT proponents made a new call on Tuesday: Wait.
“At the request of TMT, the University of Hawai‘i asked for a two-year extension of the Conservation District Use permit deadline for the initiation of construction,” stated the Office of the Governor Tuesday. “The Department of Land and Natural Resources granted this extension until Sept. 26, 2021.”
With an additional two years on the clock before the start date for construction of the telescope on the contested grounds of Maunakea, Ige rescinded his emergency proclamation.
“Because TMT construction is not imminent, I am withdrawing the emergency proclamation effective immediately,” said Ige. “I remain committed to moving forward with this project in a peaceful way and will continue efforts to engage the community.”
Those opposed to construction of the TMT on Maunakea saw Ige’s move as simply another tactic in the state’s campaign to promote the project, but still celebrated it as a victory.
“Governor Ige has admitted that he underestimated our strength, unity, and broad public support,” stated Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu, an organization started by kia‘i who established a place of refuge (“pu‘uhonua”) at the base of Mauna Kea Access Road. “Our numbers continue to grow and his ability to oppose his own people is becoming less and less justifiable. Ige’s rescinding of the emergency proclamation illustrates how he can no longer claim that we are threatening public safety. We are the public.
“We also celebrate Governor Ige’s adjusted timing,” it continued. “It’s a stall tactic. Governor Ige has been forced to lean on this tactic because he understands we are not stepping away from this struggle. It is a struggle that communities across Hawai‘i have faced for far too long – our government agencies who are supposed to protect what our society values are instead skirting the law and acting on behalf of private corporate interests.”
As has become evident, this struggle is about more than “just a telescope.”
“We value Maunakea, our culture, and our unity,” stated Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu. “Protecting them is a struggle we are ready to sustain for as long as it takes.”
Image courtesy Kakoo Haleakala