Hawaii telescope protesters to stay as blocked road reopens

FILE – In this July 24, 2019, file photo, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, third from right, walks with TMT opposition leader Kaho’okahi Kanuha, third from left, while being accompanied by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I during a visit to the protests against the TMT telescope at the base of Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island. The access road to Hawaii’s tallest mountain will reopen during the weekend under an agreement with protesters who have been blocking construction of a giant telescope, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP, File)

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HONOLULU (AP) — Protesters opposed to building a giant telescope on Hawaii’s tallest peak agreed Thursday to move a tent of elders that has blocked the mountain’s access road.

They agreed to move the so-called “kupuna tent,” referring to the Hawaiian word for elder, as part of a deal announced by Big Island Mayor Harry Kim.

In exchange, Kim promised protesters there will be no attempts to deliver construction equipment to the telescope site “anytime soon,” according to Kim’s offer letter to Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the protest leaders who is considered a kupuna.

“I, Mayor Kim give you my personal assurances that no attempt will be made to move TMT construction equipment up the mountain for a minimum of two months,” his letter said.

Dozens of mostly Native Hawaiian elders were arrested in July for blocking the road. Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope say it will desecrate land held scared to Native Hawaiians. There are already 13 telescopes on the mountain.

As part of the agreement, the access road to Mauna Kea will reopen Saturday, Kim said in a statement.

Gov. David Ige last week said police would stand down because telescope builders aren’t planning to proceed with work for now.

“Under an agreement with the protectors, the clearing operation will involve the collaborative efforts of state and county agencies working together with the protectors,” Kim said. “During the road closure, access will be limited to telescope personnel, ranchers, conservation workers, hunters and cultural practitioners, as previously arranged.”

The kupuna tent will be moved to the side of the road, Wong-Wilson said. “We will be able to sit to the side,” she said.

Protesters won’t be leaving their encampment on the mountain, said Kealoha Pisciotta, another leader of the protest. She noted that it’s the state, not protesters, who have closed the road.

She asked that tourists and others driving on the road be careful of protesters.

“They’re whizzing around the kupuna tent,” she said. “We want to remind the tour companies and the tourists to be aloha.”

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