UPDATE: Observatory Personnel Withdraw From Mauna Kea

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UPDATE: 8 PM, July 16, 2019

The Joint Information Center provided the following update at 5 p.m.

Today,  communication channels between the state and telescope project opponents remained open as preparations for construction continued.

Safety remains the state’s number one priority.

There were an estimated 200 people near the intersection of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (formerly known as Saddle Road) and Mauna Kea Access Road.


There were no arrests made today.

Puʻu Huluhulu remains open to the public and parking is available.

As planned, officers and vehicles from other law enforcement agencies are on the island to assist with ongoing construction preparations. Details about their operations will not be released.

Mauna Kea Observatories announced the withdrawal of all personnel from their telescope facilities this afternoon. They anticipate returning to normal operations as soon as the situation allows.

Continue to drive carefully if you are in the area and expect increased traffic and possible delays.


4:15 p.m., July 16, 2019: Press Conference on Mauna Kea Access Road with DOCARE Chief Jason Redulla and East Asian Observatory Deputy Director Jessica Dempsey.

“With due regards to the kūpuna”s age and seniority in their community, we will treat them with the due respect and normal procedures in which we arrest anyone,” said Chief Redulla. “We are continuing to enforce the law and provide for public safety, which is also our job.

Chief Redulla could not answer why the request by Mauna Protectors for one-car access to the mountain each day for cultural practitioners could not be met during today’s negotiations.

A member of the media then asked Redulla, if DOCARE is here to enforce the law, why were there no arrests made.

“We have to prioritize. So, right now our priority today is preparation so that we can get on the path towards construction,” said Redulla.


When asked, Chief Redulla said his commands come from a unified command at the state—“his superiors.”

When asked about when arrests will take place Chief Redulla said that due to the security of operations, he could not discuss this with the media.

He did confirm the US National Guard is present and will be consistent with what the governor has previously outlined.

Chief Redulla was then asked what he thought would happen when the National Guard attempts to go up Mauna Kea Access Road.

“I am not going to speculate on that. We will see what happens when it happens,” said Redulla.

He was then asked about the gate again. “The gate was removed. In regard to access, the state will control access with or without a gate.”

“Again, today our focus was preparation, preparation so that we can get on the path to construction. That’s really what it is for us today, said Chief Redulla.

A reporter then asked, what would you say to a tourist who wants to come to see the summit of the mountain or visit for stargazing.

“Our message with tourists and with anyone who wants to come to this area—we would ask that unless you have a valid reason to be here, whether you’re traversing to and from your destinations,” he said. “We would just ask people to avoid this area right now. There are a lot of people here gathered along the sides of the highway and it is real important for everyone just to be safe, so if you can avoid this area, please do so.”

The media then asked about preparations for construction and if he could detail what those preparations consist of. He would not comment due to concerns over operational security.

A reporter then asked if there was any word on when the construction equipment would be heading up the mountain to the construction site on the summit.

“My focus is law enforcement and preparation,” stated Chief Redulla. “I don’t have that answer.”

“What about the Hawai‘i Police Department vans,” asked a reporter. He asked if the vans are intended to scare the Mauna Protectors.

“You know, quite frankly, I don’t know the answer to that question. We do know, that the county police are here, but I don’t know what exactly you’re referring to,” said Chief Redulla.

When asked if DOCARE officers are getting a lot of overtime this week, Chief Redulla said, “With regards to pay for our officers, it will be in conjunction with our collective bargaining agreement.”

Chief Redulla was asked if he had been told Hilo HPD is the highest in the chain of command. It was previously stated by the Gov. David Ige that Hawai‘i County HPD would be in charge of this operation. Since, Big Island Now has been unable to confirm who is making final decisions and leading this operation.

One reporter pressed him on why he kept saying, “for operational security, I cannot discuss it.” Are you concerned the protestors will get violent?”

“No, what I am concerned about is the safety of everyone involved here and we just cannot go into detail about law enforcement strategies and tactics or anything like that,” the chief said.

He was then asked if the state’s plan yesterday was to just set up the road barriers and the gate.

“Well, our plan is to prepare for the start of construction,” he said. “This is a very large-scale operation, so we are going to be here as long as it takes. We are committed to see this construction through.”

One reporter asked if the chief could clarify: If the road is already closed, are they breaking the law?

He did not want to speculate, but said, “Needless to say the continued blockage of the road is a concern.”

Chief Redulla said the state’s plans and tactics had not changed since kūpuna had been placed on the front line.

He said, “Again, dealing with the kupuna, they will be treated with the due respect for their age and seniority, but we will treat them like we would any other arrest.”

East Asian Observatory Deputy Director Dempsey addressed the issues.

“The Mauna Kea Observatories, which operate up on Mauna Kea every day, will always have personnel every single day who are up on the mountain, whether to do night operations or critical maintenance work every day.”

She said there are over two dozen staff who were operating on the mountain since Sunday.

“As I hope you know, too, the safety of our staff is the absolute priority for us in everything we do up on the mauna,” said Dempsey. “In addition to that, it is the safety of everyone who is here at the moment. The fact we have had consistent difficulty getting safe access for our staff to the Mauna Kea Access Road it is at this time we have decided at this time to bring 25 staff from five different observatories up at the Hale Pohaku facility down. We do not have any observatory staff up on the summit and that does mean we will be not be doing any of our normal operations or maintenance at this time.”

She said they hope to only have their staff off of the mountain for a short time, but that safety is the biggest concern.

“We have determined this is the only thing we can do right now to ensure they don’t have to put themselves in any sort of personal danger,” said Dempsey.

She said at this point, they decided to be proactive to ensure staff safety.

“Mauna Kea observatories have millions of dollars’ worth of instrumentation. This isn’t a camera you can go and buy off of the shelf. A lot are very fickle. These instruments need a lot of tender loving care and often this means daily,” explained Dempsey. “This is a risk and a wrench for us to have to step away at this point. It’s one of the reasons we are hoping this doesn’t have to extend for very long.”

She was asked about the fears she has for the safety of her staff and if has anyone had been harassed, threatened or anything negative from any of the Mauna Protectors.

“Not at all. As far as I am aware, they have been incredibly good interactions for the most part. I am not aware at least of any interactions which have been in any way threatening or bad in any way,” said Dempsey.

She was then asked why if she says both the protestors and law enforcement are acting in a civil way, why does she fear the safety of her staff. A reporter asked is it that she fears what is to come tomorrow when more police, more National Guard or law enforcement shows up.

“Not at all. It’s about being precautionary,” said Dempsey, “When staff have to stop on a highway, we don’t want to put them in that sort of situation.”

She went on to say, “Mauna Kea Observatories want to be part of finding a solution, not to make it any worse at all.”

This is the first time that the telescopes have been unattended in this way and that staff has been removed from the mountain. There are dozens of projects that are being impacted by the interruption. She said telescopes like this are in high demand around the world. She said when weather permits, the observe every minute of every night.

“The TMT is going to add an incredible new capability to the type of science we can do on Mauna Kea,” explained Dempsey. “But it is a complementary aspect. It doesn’t mean suddenly that you don’t need the other telescopes on the mauna to do the science their doing. They complement in the most incredible way. Some see wide; some see deep; some see in whole other wavelengths. All of these things, mean the TMT adds things that right now the current capabilities that the other telescopes can’t do but it is complementary science and going to be an amazing addition to what the current Mauna Kea Observatories are currently doing.”

She was asked whether the science was worth it, Dempsey said, “I don’t think I can speak to whether we should be pitting one against the other. I have a great belief that we can find a path forward that includes all of these things in this incredibly special place. And it is certainly not going to be me that has any kind of right to say one of them is more important than the other. I think they are both very precious.”

Normally a couple of dozen are working on the mountain, up to 50. She said they are making further decisions tonight and will be discussing remote observing options.

ORIGINAL POST: 5:33 PM, July 16, 2019

The Mauna Kea Media team held a briefing at 11 a.m. July 16, 2019, and the group who opposes construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, who call themselves the Mauna Protectors, held a midday press conference.

“We are encouraged by the rapport built yesterday as we work on the path forward to constriction,” said Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla. DOCARE is one of the divisions in the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Mauna Protectors chained to the cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

“Safety! Safety! Safety!” Chief Redulla stressed, underscoring the issue that continues to be of greatest concern at this time.

He advised that those traversing Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) to use extreme caution.

Mauna Kea Access Road remains closed to all traffic until further notice. Drivers are asked to stay alert and drive slowly near the intersection of Mauna Kea Access Road and Saddle Road due to pedestrian and vehicle activity. Stopping and standing is not permitted near the barriers. Drivers are asked to slow down, especially in the areas of mile marker 28 to 30 on Saddle Road.

Chief Redulla reminded the public that Pu‘u Huluhulu is open and accessible to all. The refuge area was established Native Hawaiian groups earlier in the week.

Mauna Kea Kupuna Protector Maxine Kahaulelio speaks to DLNR officer, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

When asked to clarify yesterday’s installation and then prompt removal of the gate on Mauna Kea Access Road, Chief Redulla said that there was a situation involving the gate.

As they move towards construction, the state will be controlling access to the mountain, with or without the gate, he said.

Chief Redulla could not comment on any aspects regarding law enforcement officers being deployed to Hawai‘i Island from Neighbor Islands as backup, but said the county and state are working collaboratively.

There were reports of an informal agreement between state law enforcement and the group opposing the Thirty Meter Telescope project construction on Maunakea, who call themselves Mauna Protectors.

Chief Redulla was unable to speak to the informal agreement made between the Mauna Protectors and law enforcement officials on the ground regarding the two checkpoints now on the road.

Mauna Protectors chained to the cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

According to kia‘i leader Kaho‘okahi Kanuha, the two sides were able to negotiate an agreement for two checkpoints on Mauna Kea Access Road.

The state checkpoint is located at the cattle guard on the access road and the checkpoint of the kūpuna of the kia‘i is stationed just below the state checkpoint.


The checkpoints are to ensure no one went up the mountain.

Around midday, the Mauna Protectors held a press conference for an update revealing where negotiations with law enforcement and the protestors have stalled.

Kanuha said the state has asked them to clear Mauna Kea Access Road.

In response the Mauna Protectors asked for what Kanuha referred to as a “simple negotiation” that included the following:

1. No US National Guard would move up the mauna.

2. They would allow astro-technicians up the mauna, as long as the kanaka (people) could have one vehicle up the mauna on a daily basis.

3. They could hold the space they are currently in on Mauna Kea Access Road and continue to have their checkpoint.

The Hawai‘i County Mobile Command Center arrives at Mauna Kea Access Road in response to the Mauna Kea Protectors roadblock, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

Kanuha said that the state told them that not allowing the National Guard up the mauna was not negotiable, nor was getting a vehicle for kanaka beyond the state checkpoint possible. In order to keep their checkpoint, they needed to clear lanes of Mauna Kea Access Road and move the checkpoint off to the side of the roadway.

“We could not come to an agreement based on the terms and conditions that we’ve expressed,” explained Kanuha. “We do not have an agreement with the law enforcement agencies above on what’s going to happen moving forward. I am sure we will have more conversations in the future, but at this point, we do not have an agreement with law enforcement—so here we are.

When asked what was next, Kanuha said—they will be there.

“Our kūpuna have made their position very clear. The kūpuna will not move,” he said.

The Hawai‘i County Mobile Command Center arrives at Mauna Kea Access Road in response to the Mauna Kea Protectors roadblock, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

“To our maikai, we love you folks just like we love ourselves,” Kanuha said during the midday press conference. “When we say we are doing this for our people, we are doing this for you. You are our people. We are doing this for you keiki… If we need to stand against you for the betterment of the future of your keiki, we will do it for them—but we will only do it with aloha.”

“To the lāhui, we can wait, we can hope, we can stand up and we can do it,” said Kanuha. “And we can get it done. And nobody believe we cannot. Have we done it before? We stopped them. They tried. We stopped them on the streets and in the courts. We are going to stop them again. Come be a part of our history.”

While the Mauna Protectors began to sing, Pualani Case took a moment to address the media.

Mauna Kea Protectors block access road, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

“We are making this call out beyond our shores,” Case said. “This is a time we are calling out everyone that is responsible for us being here today to make this stand. So, China, Japan, India, Canada, the United States, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, TIO, TMT—we are calling upon you. Because of your investment here, you have forced us into this position. This is our mauna. We are calling upon you to halt and withdraw immediately. This the consequence of your actions, not just our government.”

Case said she sincerely felt that those invested in this project did not want to be responsible for the actions against her people.

“I am calling on all of you and to all who are standing with us around the world,” said Case. “Continue to stand with us because we are Mauna Kea and we stand. We stand.”

The Mauna Protectors were then asked about the TRO filed in court.

Kealoha Pisciotta explained they requested to have the case heard sooner than the July 23 court date, but at this time, that was as soon as the case can be heard.

Mauna Kea Protectors block access road, July 15, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard

There is a second hearing set for the injunction but they are hoping to consolidate them.

“Just so you know, this all because they, number one, don’t have the funding for this project and number two, have not followed the rules of DLNR that require the full bond of $1.4 to 2 billion,” said Pisciotta. “So that’s what this case is about and they are opposing it.”

Pisciotta went on to say that this matters to all in Hawai‘i.

“Its not a good sign,” Pisciotta said. “Because if they don’t pay that bond and just leave… the people of Hawai‘i would have to carry the burden of that. That’s what this case is about. It’s not just about stopping development. If they’re going to actually really do it, then you got to follow the rules to do it—and they haven’t.”

Kanuha was then asked about the concern for safety of those who work on the mountain.

“They have nothing to be concerned about,” said Kanuha. “Obviously, we were willing to make to concession and allow them up freely without any stoppage. We simply want the same. The ability to access Mauna Kea… If the people of this place have no right there, nobody has a right there. For those people who are not involved with constructing the TMT telescope, we have no issue with what you are doing.”

He clarified they do not like the telescopes on the mountain, but that was a topic “for another day.”

“You guys have a job to do. We understand that,” said Kanhua. “Our objective is to stop TMT… We are here to stand against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, because we know it will desecrate our ʻāina.”

Kanhua was asked if he would support building a Hawaiian cultural center on Mauna Kea.

“What we are against again is the destruction of our mauna,” stated Kanuha. “You want to build a cultural center; my assumption is you would have to destruct and destroy the mauna. I would be against that just as much as we would the TMT because we have said over and over again, we are not against the science. We are not against the telescope; we are against the desecration of our mauna against the will of the kanaka.”

At this time, the Mauna Protectors are blocking Mauna Kea Access Road with their kūpuna stationed at the frontline. There is song, some hula and prayer as they wait to see what will happen next. And thus far, no arrests.

Big Island Now has reached out to both the TMT Observatory Corporation and to TMT proponents. Their side will be published on Big Island Now as well.

Big Island Now will continue to bring you the latest on this situation as it continues to unfold.

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