(BIVN) – There are mixed messages regarding a deal that would allow Mauna Kea observatory staff, as well as one car for Hawaiian practitioners, access to the mountain.
On Sunday, Kahoʻokahi Kanuha – a leader in the Thirty Meter Telescope opposition movement – announced that a deal had been reached. The Mauna Kea Access Road was closed two weeks ago to ensure safe passage for TMT construction crews but has been blocked by opponents of the project ever since.
“The state has accepted the deal, allowing one carload of TMT opposition up the mountain for cultural purposes in exchange for access for all observatory technicians to access the summit area,” Kanuha said during a press conference.
“From here on out, those who wish to perform maintenance on the telescopes will have unobstructed access to the Mauna. We have made an agreement,” Kanuha explained. “They will gave us the name of the telescope and the amount of the individuals going up to the mountain. That will be checked and confirmed. And upon confirmation they will have access. In return, we have been granted access of one vehicle a day.”
There have been some reports of observatory personnel accessing the mountain since that time.
However, the Maunakea Observatories refute the claim that a deal has been made.
“Contrary to recent reports, the Maunakea Observatories have not made a deal with activists for ongoing access to our telescope facilities,” wrote Jessica Dempsey, the deputy director of the East Asian Observatory, in a media release issued on Monday. “Since the Maunakea Observatories’ directors made the joint decision to remove all remaining personnel from Maunakea on Tuesday, July 16, there has been no consistent staff presence at our telescope facilities to provide the kind of regular maintenance required by our complex systems and delicate instrumentation.”
We continue to closely monitor the health of our telescopes remotely from our base facilities. As issues that are critically time-sensitive are identified for technology that is at risk of significant damage, the Observatories notify law enforcement and the Office of Maunakea Management. If law enforcement tells the Observatories that our staff will not be blocked from entering and exiting the Maunakea Access Road, the Observatory directors carefully assess the situation and, if the safety risk is determined to be low, send a small crew of the smallest number of technicians needed to successfully complete the work required.
These efforts are urgent technical work required to prevent irreversible damage to the telescopes and instruments. With the current level of access, the Observatories are still unable to resume operations.
For regular operations, our observatories need safe, consistent access to our facilities for not only technicians, but all of our staff — and our local contractors and vendors — in order to keep our facilities functional.
The Maunakea Observatories continue to support the efforts of state and county law enforcement to restore safe and reliable conditions on the Maunakea Access Road.
Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim plans to hold a press conference today at 2 p.m.
UPDATE: On reports of a deal being reached, the office of the Hawaiʻi County mayor said “that story is inaccurate”.
UPDATE: The state, however, has confirmed that an agreement was made. “In order to enable at least some access by observatory technicians, limited access has been granted to cultural practitioners blocking the road,” said Dan Dennison, the Senior Communications Manager for the Hawaiʻi Department of Land & Natural Resources. “The observatories are not parties to this conversation,” he added.