HONOLULU — Hawaii's governor on Tuesday rescinded an emergency proclamation put in place to deal with native Hawaiian protesters who are blocking a road to prevent the construction of a giant telescope at a mountain summit they consider sacred.
Gov. David Ige said there were no immediate plans to move heavy equipment to Mauna Kea's summit. He also noted two hurricanes were approaching that could affect the protest area and the rest of the state.
Hurricane Erick, approaching from the east, is forecast to pass south of the Big Island later this week. Following right after is Hurricane Flossie, which appears on track to come close to the islands early next week.
"For the safety of all involved, we want to de-escalate activities," Ige said at a news conference.
The governor declared an emergency on July 17 to give law enforcement more authority to close areas of the mountain and to use additional National Guard troops to help deliver construction gear.
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The protest to stop the Thirty Meter Telescope is in its 16th day.
Law enforcement arrested 38 people, mostly elders, who were blocking the road July 17, the third day of the protest. Ige said law enforcement on the ground judged it wasn’t in the best interests of everyone’s safety to arrest more people.
"The numbers of protesters there who appeared on the mountain was greater than anticipated," Ige said.
There were about 1,000 people on the mountain the day of the arrests. On the weekends, there have been more than 2,000 people.
The protest group Pu'uhonua o Pu'uhuluhulu called the governor’s announcement "a victory that reaffirms our resolve."
"Governor Ige has admitted that he underestimated our strength, unity, and broad public support. Our numbers continue to grow and his ability to oppose his own people is becoming less and less justifiable," the statement said.
Ige said the state and county would continue their efforts after the storms pass to allow the telescope to be built. Ige has asked Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to lead talks to find common ground.
Ige indicated he found it helpful to visit the protest site last week. "I certainly found in instructive for me to be able to speak with and talk with protesters face to face. It gave me an appreciation for their passion and commitment," he said.
The Thirty Meter Telescope has selected Mauna Kea’s summit for its project because the weather and air conditions there are among the best in the world for viewing the skies.
The Hawaii Supreme Court last year ruled the international consortium behind the telescope lawfully obtained a permit to build the telescope, clearing the way for the project to proceed.
Separately, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources granted the project a two-year extension on a deadline to start construction as specified in a conservation district use permit. The new deadline is Sept. 26, 2021.
The department noted the court case delayed construction for 13 months and the protests are currently delaying construction.