Protesters arrested while preventing construction of a giant telescope posted bail and were returning to the Hawaii mountain they say they’re protecting from desecration.
Hundreds of protesters who flocked to the Big Island’s Mauna Kea on Wednesday successfully prevented workers from reaching the site for the planned $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope. The workers turned their vehicles around when they encountered boulders in the road leading to the site.
The governor’s office said the road would need to be cleared Thursday and construction would have to be put on hold. It was unclear when there might be another effort to resume.
Mike Bolte, a board member of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory, said the nonprofit company is assessing its plans to restart construction. The company is primarily concerned about the safety of its team and everyone on the mountain, he said in a statement.
Construction stopped for about two months after the arrests of 31 protesters in April. Opposition has been mounting against building one of the world’s largest telescopes on land that many hold sacred.
A dozen people were arrested Wednesday, charged with obstructing and then released after posting $250 bail. Bail was $1,000 for one person who had a previous arrest, police said.
“Sorry, just got out of jail,” Kahookahi Kanuha, one of the protest leaders, said in a text message to The Associated Press. He said he was waiting for the last person to be released from the Hilo police station so they could return to the mountain, more than 40 miles away.
Protesters said a group of them plan to continue camping on the mountain in case workers try to restart construction.
The road up the mountain remained closed Thursday, a day after the University of Hawaii, which is responsible for Mauna Kea stewardship, closed it for safety reasons. University spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said some protesters refused to leave.
Boulders and rock walls in the road have made it dangerous, he said: “It’s kind of like an obstacle course.”
A ranger negotiated with protesters Thursday to take down four rock walls so observatory workers could get up the mountain to do maintenance, Meisenzahl said. There are 13 other telescopes on Mauna Kea.
W.M. Keck Observatory officials said the obstructions also affected night operations, and “going forward, feasibility of operations will be assessed on a day-by-day basis.”
“Just as all the current observatories respect the protestors’ right to peacefully demonstrate on the mountain, we hope that they will respect our desire to continue the work that contributes to Hawaii being the home of the most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth,” said a statement from the observatory.
Protester Walter Ritte said he doesn’t know of any tactics that involved placing the rocks in the road.
“The Hawaiians are saying that the rocks were put there by the Menehune the night before,” he said, referring to the Hawaiian legend of small people who worked at night building fish ponds, roads and temples.
“Hawaiians would rather eat rocks than succumb to suppression,” Ritte said. “It was pretty significant to us that it was the rocks of Mauna Kea that created our victory for the day.”
Protester Deborah J. Ward said she sensed conflicting feelings from state law enforcement officers, who she said likely have friends and relatives who oppose the telescope.
“I saw officers crying and expressing their regret for wearing the uniform,” she said, adding that she saw some of them exchange honi, a traditional forehead-to-forehead greeting, with protesters.
Ritte said some officers were aggressive.
“They pushed Hawaiians to the top of the mountain,” he said. “We cannot lose this battle.”
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