DAY 8: State Stands By Assertions of Drug, Alcohol Use on Mauna Kea

July 22, 2019, 12:12 PM HST (Updated July 23, 2019, 9:48 PM)
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Protectors block Mauna Kea Access Road on third day of TMT protest, July 17. PC: Crystal Richard

Gov. David Ige issued comments late last week regarding the use of alcohol and marijuana in the designated protest zone atop Mauna Kea on Hawai‘i Island, where more than 1,000 opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) have gathered to block construction of the project.

Those comments were met with pushback by leaders of the protest, who objected to Gov. Ige’s characterization of the situation on the mountain as “unsafe.”

On Monday, July 22, 2019, Senior Communications Manager for the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Dan Dennison addressed the issue during a teleconference with state and national media.

“Law enforcement officers did observe beer and smell marijuana last week, which was the basis of the governor’s statement,” said Dennison, adding the officers conveyed that information firsthand to Gov. Ige.

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Dennison couldn’t elaborate as to the date and time of the violations but said officers were dispersed to deal with the offenders. It wasn’t only police, however, eager to weed out a small number of individuals who might sully the reputation of the larger group of protesters.

“It appears the protestors promptly took care of that situation themselves,” said Dennison, adding there is no longer evidence of beer and marijuana on the mountain.

The number of protesters rose over the weekend to around 2,000, but those numbers dipped back down to about 1,000 Monday, according to Dennison. There have been no arrests or injuries over the last 24 hours, as everything on the mountain has proceeded amicably.

Dennison did say weather might prove a safety concern as Monday presses on, as there’s a chance thunderstorms accompanied by lightning will develop in the afternoon.

The elevation of the protest zone is nearly 7,000 feet and conditions are liable to change quickly with the potential to become volatile.

Protesters are urged to protect against weather changes with appropriate clothing. Dennison reminded protesters that should bad weather hit the mountain, the safest place to seek shelter is inside a vehicle with the doors closed and windows rolled up.

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