(ABOVE PHOTO) An artist concept illustrating the TMT Observatory at the proposed site on Mauna Kea. The image, created by Thirty Meter Telescope, shows a rendering of the TMT in the bottom left of the image.
- The Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) warned summit tour operators in a recent letter that there will be road closures during the October 7th Thirty Meter Telescope groundbreaking, in anticipation of possible civil disobedience, vehicle blockages and road sit-ins by opponents of the $1.4 billion project.
- The proposal to close roads was met with outrage by a group of environmentalists and cultural practitioners, who said in a letter to OMKM Director Stephanie Nagata, “road access restriction would violate the U.S. and State constitutional rights of its citizens and the religious freedoms afforded to Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners.”
It is unclear if or when the Mauna Kea Access Road will be closed as the groundbreaking date draws near. The letter to tour operators said the road “will be closed beginning at 10 pm Monday, October 6, at the boundary of UH’s managed lands just below the VIS. The road will reopen sometime around 2 pm Tuesday, Oct. 7,” and that “only official observatory, UH, and State vehicles will be allowed through the road block.” However, Big Island Video News has not officially confirmed any closure times or dates, however the website promoting the event states, “Although access to the TMT construction site will be limited due to the area’s sensitive environment and harsh physical conditions, the ceremony will be fully accessible via a live-stream webcast.”
The October 3 letter written to the Office of Mauna Kea Management, signed by Nelson Ho, the Sierra Club Chair (Moku Loa Group), Clarence Ku Ching of Huaka’i I Na ‘Aina Mauna, Deborah Ward and the organization KAHEA:
We recently received a copy of the enclosed memorandum, authored by Director Stephanie Nagata and addressed to Mauna Kea Tour Operators. Based upon our review of its contents, we understand that the University of Hawai`i’s Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) seeks to prohibit access to the Mauna Kea Access Road on October 6 and 7, 2014 because it expects that members of the public may seek to express their political views on the deeply unpopular decision to break ground for the Thirty-Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea’s summit. As you are aware, the courts are reviewing legal challenges to the TMT. The rumors that “hecklers” may express discontent with the further observatory construction on Mauna Kea’s sacred summit and conservation lands does not constitute a compelling government interest which is required to justify the closure of a public roadway.
Road access restriction would violate the U.S. and State constitutional rights of its citizens and the religious freedoms afforded to Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners. The Mauna Kea Access road is a public road, paid for by public funds. OMKM has neither authority nor jurisdiction to close the Mauna Kea Access road. UH Hilo is lessee (not the landowner) of crown lands in the Conservation District. While the lease confers an easement to utilize the public road, OMKM does not enjoy exclusivity of access.
It is legally indefensible to exclude the public while allowing access to designated invitees and tour operators as indicated in the letter. OMKM’s proposed road closure would violate the public’s right to free speech, right to travel, public assembly, and right to religious freedom. Additionally, Native Hawaiian practitioners and others are entitled to access to the upper regions of Mauna Kea for religious and cultural practices, and they are not bound by the proposed road closure. Several of the signatories below are planning a peaceful gathering to worship and conduct ceremony. Some Kupuna may wish to access the summit lele to give ho’okupu .
We ask that the University of Hawaii respect the rights of the people of Hawaiʻi and reconsider the proposal to close the Mauna Kea Access road.October 3 letter to Office of Mauna Kea Management