Maunakea Access Road Slated to Reopen Today

December 28, 2019, 4:00 PM HST (Updated December 28, 2019, 3:46 PM)
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The road to Maunakea is scheduled to reopen today after months of blocked access.

The four-month long stalemate over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope between kia‘i, the self-described protectors of Maunakea, and state and county officials has kept the public off the mountain, including tour companies that take visitors to the summit.

According to Hawai‘i County Police officials Saturday afternoon, the kūpuna tent blocking the road has been moved off the road.

Jason Cohn, president of Hawai‘i Forest and Trail, said the halted sunrise and sunset tours were tough as the company was still recovering from Kīlauea’s eruption disruption last year. A few job positions were eliminated and a lot of employees lost hours, he continued.

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It’s not just the guides who are impacted, Cohn explained. It’s staff in the warehouse, reservations and those who prep the meals.

“It takes a lot of people to make these tours happen,” he said.

Cohn is aware of how divisive the TMT issue is. However, he is cautiously optimistic that the opening of the road is a step toward a solution.

“I know that there’s good people on all sides of this issue, we just have to find a way to come together,” he said.

Hawai‘i Forest and Trail will pick up their sunset tour Saturday night. The sunrise tour will be integrated at a later date.

“We feel comfortable it’s OK to go up, and our guides are excited to have the opportunity to go back,” Cohn said. “It’s a real privilege.”

Maunakea Access Road was cut off to the public in July after hundreds of demonstrators gathered in solidarity against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop the mauna. TMT was slated to begin work this summer, however, the protectors did not allow construction vehicles to pass.

Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim proposed both sides of the TMT dispute stand down through the end of February. Protectors accepted Kim’s terms, which don’t include demonstrators leaving the mountain, only that they move their camp to the roadside in order to return public access to Maunakea.

Kim offered personal assurances that there would be no attempts to begin construction on Maunakea by TMT, and that neither State nor County law enforcement would interfere with protectors who remain on the mountain.

“In response to the mayor’s commitment, the kūpuna will open the road for safety reasons,” leaders posted on the Facebook page Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu. “They will remain in place alongside Maunakea Access Road with the full support of the Pu‘uhonua and will be prepared to respond to any threat of construction by TMT in the future.”

We are committed and not leaving Maunakea until the TMT leaves Hawai‘i

WE ARE COMMITTED AND WE WILL NOT LEAVE MAUNAKEA UNTIL THE TMT LEAVES HAWAI‘IMAUNAKEA ACCESS ROAD, 12/26/19 – Today, we received written assurances from Mayor Harry Kim that construction of the TMT will not proceed until the end of February at the earliest and that law enforcement will stand down for the duration of that time. In response to the mayor's commitment, the kūpuna will open the road for safety reasons. They will remain in place alongside Maunakea Access Road with the full support of the Pu‘uhonua and will be prepared to respond to any threat of construction by TMT in the future.We'd like to thank the hundreds of kia‘i who responded to the Hawai‘i island kāhea today and were on hand to hear from the kūpuna directly. We would like to remind everyone to remain vigilant and steadfast, as Aunty Noe Noe reminded us today, "if there are any signs of construction, we'll be right back in the middle of the road."We are committed and we will not leave Maunakea until the TMT leaves Hawai‘i.

Posted by Pu'uhonua o Pu'uhuluhulu Maunakea on Thursday, December 26, 2019

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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