UPDATE: Mauna Kea Negotiations Remain at Standstill After Initial Talks

July 29, 2019, 4:55 PM HST (Updated July 30, 2019, 7:23 AM)
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TMT protest, July 15, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

UPDATE: July 30, 2019, 6:12 AM

The Hawai‘i Department of Land & Natural Resources released an update this morning:

“In order to enable at least some access by observatory technicians, limited access has been granted to cultural practitioners blocking the road.  The observatories are not parties to this conversation.”

ORIGINAL POST: July 29, 2019, 4:55 PM

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Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim met with leaders of the Native Hawaiian community Friday, July 26, 2019, for the first of what he expects will be a long series of meetings to resolve the protest against construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop Mauna Kea.

But the conversation didn’t get far.

Little consensus arose from the mayor’s initial meeting with Native Hawaiian leaders, none of which numbered among the kia‘i, or Mauna Kea protecters, during the first go round.

In fact, the only tangible result of the meeting was an agreement to meet again, the mayor explained in his first press conference since taking over negotiations from Gov. David Ige last Wednesday.

“General consensus was very limited,” Mayor Kim said. “Unanimously, they all agreed to come back when called and asked, continue to meet and continue this discussion.”

Considerable anger and what the mayor described as misinformation continues to pit protectors against TMT and its supporters. As to whether leaders of those two entities might meet in the future, Mayor Kim said he was hopeful, but added that negotiations and emotions aren’t at a place where those talks are likely to prove productive.

“First, we thank Mayor Harry Kim for convening last Friday’s meeting of Native Hawaiian community members to discuss Maunakea,” Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Colette Machado and Interim OHA CEO/Ka Pouhana Kuikawa Sylvia Hussey wrote in a joint statement Monday.

“The meeting provided the opportunity for participants to share our many different perspectives and manaʻo about the issue,” the statement continued. “The only consensus participants seemed to have reached was that these kinds of conversation should continue. OHA’s hope is that future meetings include members of the Kiaʻi.”

One roadblock, beyond the literal one erected on Mauna Kea Access Road by protesters, is a seeming lack of clarity on exactly who on the state’s side has authority to negotiate terms or allocate law enforcement resources and directives.

Protectors have criticized government response as unorganized and lacking clear leadership. Gov. David Ige stepped aside last week, naming Mayor Kim the representative of both county and state interests on the mountain.

The mayor was somewhat unclear on his message about who is dictating law enforcement action on Mauna Kea, seeming to intimate law enforcement, to a large degree, governs itself there.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim in his office in Hilo, May 8, 2019. PC: Crystal Richard.

“My authority with police is very limited by law,” said Mayor Kim, adding he has no authority to activate the National Guard, nor would he want that authority, nor does he think that solution is a viable action on the part of the state.

Other logistical leadership issues raised at Monday’s news conference included two purported deals with protecters.

The first was an alleged offer that TMT construction operations would stand down if protesters agreed to evacuate the mountain. Kahoʻokahi Kanuha, a leader of the protecters, told reporters that law enforcement claiming to represent the county made that offer, which he said protecters rejected.

Officials disputed Kanuha’s comments, saying no such offer was ever extended.

Mayor Kim said he was unaware of who it was on the mountain that may be trying to negotiate without proper authority.

Kanuha also said Sunday that an agreement between the state and TMT protesters was struck to allow employees of Maunakea Observatories passage up the access road to maintain facilities at operational telescopes, as long as a vehicle full of protecters accompanied them.

Maunakea Observatories on Monday disputed that any such agreement had been reached, a sentiment Mayor Kim echoed.

“I dont know (who made the deal),” the mayor said. “I don’t make deals, so I guarantee it wasn’t me.”

Mayor Kim did say he brought up the issue of employees of Maunakea Observatories being afforded access to working telescopes at his first meeting with Native Hawaiian leaders. He added those employees have a the right to make their livings. As to how a compromise could be reached on the issue, the mayor could not provide specifics.

Mayor Kim didn’t speak to any pressing financial concerns on the part of the state that might expedite resolution, nor did he mention a specific deadline for results. He did say he will set up the next meeting with cultural practitioners as quickly as possible and acknowledged the situation atop Mauna Kea, now more than two weeks old, has gone on too long.

Soon-to-be Hurricane Erick may also throw a fold into an already complex and likely lengthy negotiation, as pending weather could create dangerous conditions and require protecters abandon Mauna Kea for their own well-being.

Monday’s most tangible accomplishment belonged to the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HDOT), which finalized plans to install temporary traffic lights at the intersection of Mauna Kea Access Road and Daniel K. Inouye Highway. Installation is expected to commence and finish on Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

An erratic driver last week, the mayor said, almost collided with a group of children. HDOT also has plans to extend barriers for more walking space—another of many indicators Monday that the standoff on Mauna Kea isn’t likely to end anytime soon.

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